Hey, so I was wondering if you could please talk about Orion Pax and Megatron VS Optimus Prime and Megatron? Examinations between multiple series would be cool too! Also any traits, from both parties, that you find interesting in different iterations or crucial to establishing their (generally) dichotomous relationship? Sorry this isn't a very creative, or clearly articulated, ask. Still getting used to Transformers, and all it's facets, after many dry years without them. :)
Sounds cool, I’ll do my best.
When it comes to Optimus vs. Megatron, the general principle to remember is that they will always be defined by their differences. Optimus is a family-man, Megatron is a coldblooded general. Optimus is selfless, Megatron is selfish. Optimus seeks to protect or learn about other creatures, Megatron seeks to murder and enslave. Optimus acts for the good of the whole, whereas Megatron is generally motivated by personal goals. There are differences across the various franchises*, the family-man dynamic is reversed in Transformers: Armada, there’s little in the way of obsession in Transformers Animated, etc., but the core concept remains the same. They are utterly dichotomous in their personal behaviour, motives, and perspectives on the world; hence their strong functioning for representations of each side and why they are so obsessed with the defeat of one another.
Incidentally, for a really good breakdown of the major Optimuses and Megatrons over the years, check out krakenbell’s essay on the subject.
In the case of Megatron (or Megatronus) vs. Orion Pax, however, the focus leans more heavily towards how they are alike. There’s a theme of Orion wanting more out of life, or wanting to do more for the world around him. Megatron comes to symbolize the ability to carve one’s own destiny, buck the system, and to make changes where necessary. Eventually, there is a falling out between the two, as Orion realizes their fundamental differences and they become enemies. Particularly in TFP (at least at the beginning) and IDW, there’s a sense that Megatron and Orion ultimately want the same thing, but what they’re willing to go through to get it, and what qualifies as acceptable victories or losses are vastly different.
Orion is intriguing to me, because he represents an interesting twist on the “Hero of Humble Beginnings” sort of archetype. In stories of this nature, the protagonist is an everyman, usually depicted as being in the lower rung of a society’s power-structure, thus allowing the reader to easily plant themselves in the hero’s perspective. Luke Skywalker is the go-to example here. They feel constrained, unfulfilled, unhappy, or even directly oppressed in this environment and seek to forcibly change their lot in life. Typically then, the plot will follow them working against or through the system to realize their full potential, grow physically, mature mentally, and eventually emerge an empowered, admirable adult.
In the case of Orion, however, he is a robot who quickly comes into a position of power (via the Matrix or otherwise) far greater than anything he has ever known, and is expected to equally quickly master and wield this power in the service of others.
In the G1 cartoon, he’s an amiable dock-working with a smile always on his face and his best girl, Ariel, close by. He was warm, joking, and friendly, but also yearned for more out of life. He was impressed with the power and flight held by Megatron, and Orion sought to break out of the repetitive, service industry life by befriending the fledging Decepticon faction. Poop hit the fan in several big ways, and Orion Pax was forcibly rebuilt as the more powerful Optimus Prime to seek retribution against those who tried to end him, and to lead the Autobots to victory.
In IDW, Orion is depicted as an aggressive, down-to-earth, but also idealistic cop who seeks to weed out the scum-suckers within the system and follow due process. He’s a little more “cowboy” than “farmboy”, true, but still very human. While he arrests and jails criminals, he finds Megatron’s rhetoric to be interesting, and he doesn’t argue that the system needs a serious overall. As time passes and the war gets increasingly severe, Orion realizes his life as a law enforcement official isn’t what Cybertron needs. In fact, he realizes Orion isn’t necessary at all, and he willingly lets the Matrix transform him into Optimus Prime in order to lead the Autobots to peace. When he recognizes Optimus Prime is doing more harm than good to the future of Cybertron, he relinquishes the Matrix and departs as Orion Pax yet again.
And in Transformers Prime, Orion Pax is a simple data clerk; a librarian who views the world and its history through screens and text. He becomes disillusioned with the unfair caste system in which he lives and seeks friendship in the like-minded gladiator, Megatronus; who views the world from a bloody combat pit. Orion learns to stop reading the words of others and to speak for himself; and to look at the world raw. Eventually, the brotherhood ends when Orion is chosen to carry the Matrix. Optimus Prime is born and ascends higher away from his fellow Autobots in order to govern them better. Meanwhile, Megatron sinks lower into madness and obsession.
Note also how the “Hero of Humble Beginnings” concept can be applied to IDW and TFP Megatron as well. A lowly miner or gladiator, who looks around at the abuse, despair, and decay of his ilk and stands up to say “no more!”. He then rallies a larger and larger cause around him, physically changes, amasses more power, and emerges as an empowered adult… though not necessarily for the better.
The fundamental question underscoring this parallel is: if their roots were so similar, what ultimately made Optimus a hero and Megatron a villain? Was it the Matrix, or something more fundamental? How big a factor do their social circles or work experience play? What was Orion willing to sacrifice that Megatron wasn’t? Or, what was Megatron willing to sacrifice that Orion wasn’t?
And in the case of IDW, an even bigger question is posed: what qualifies as a hero or villain anyways?
To any rate, that’s just my take on the general subject. It hope you found it interesting, let me know if there’s anything else you’d like to discuss or if you have a particular stance on it
*Beast Wars (but not Beast Machines) is the odd duck out in the Transformers mega-mega-verse. While Optimus Primal and Grape Face are indeed very different sorts of people, they lack the strong contrasting personalities held by other installments. Furthermore, they don’t view each other as epic, all-encompassing, destined rivals. They hate each other, yes. They spend a lot of time grumbling about one another, yes… but the theme is very different. Their overarching goals are far more important than their personal feelings of mutual malice. To Primal, BW!Megatron is merely his assignment; he has to capture the guy to go home, simple as that. To BW!Megatron, Primal is merely a foolish, but dangerously competent Maximal in his way. They both have bigger fish to fry. If anything, it is Dinobot and Megatron who hold the obsessive relationship due to their ideological differences.