Once in a while you find a villain that have a grand back story and an appearance that does not match. Some people may disagree with me but I think Megatron fits the bill. His original design doesn’t seem to project the sinister brutal conqueror his personality and history display. Just as to recap Megatron’s resume mentions him being a gladiator champion, a conqueror of much of his home world, and the cherry on top; he’s killed Optimus Prime on more than one occasion. I have to say looking back at some of the first images of Megatron I have to chuckle.
He isn’t the visage of a gladiatorial champion or the arch-nemesis to all living things. But he did have the potential to be the villain he proclaimed to be. My argument is a character can evolve in order to fit the back-story, and that it is a good thing this is happening. It’s no exaggeration to say the remodelling of past characters is an everyday practice in the comic book industry, examples being Venom and Dracula. I believe this is healthy for the industry, without this material will eventually become stale. Just imagine almost any comic from Marvel or DC that had the same cultural views as those in the 1940’s, I’m not sure how well the public would react. Sure the retrospective analysis one could do would be present but the mass majority would probably wouldn’t be all for it. I’m not knocking old comics they are time specific, just saying updates don’t hurt.
Megatron as published by Marvel was a skinny, grey character with an arm cannon that turned into a pistol (a form that still exists). Part of this was because the comic was created to give a story to a line of toys featuring a transforming fire arm. A fact that the Marvel UK illustrators focused on (see second image above). This was a design that lasted for a long time and would be seen in the animated series as well. But something changed; the leader of the Decepticons got an overhaul. When the Transformer series had its “reboot” many characters were painted in a darker light and some characters what was considered their image. Megatron was one such character; he began to inch towards his current brutish appearance, this time as a green and purple tank. It should be noted, his head design remains intact. To me this shows that even with an update a character still needs to retain some elements for recognition or else risking the audience thinking it’s a new character. This happened when Beast Wars came out, that in itself is a bit confusing as both share the name, arm cannon and personality for conquest but are two separate characters (in the same universe). Back to comics, Megatron’s new tank model seemed to be the way to go as more incarnations of the form kept popping up.
In more recent years IDW has been the publisher of Transformer comics. Their designs can be split into two categories in my opinion; nostalgic and contemporary. IDW’s nostalgic Megatron looks in most ways the same as his original appearance. Though we see a more brutish hulking form with much more detail, he still turns into a gun though (head scratching). The contemporary designs are the ones I think represent the good an update can be. He’s a tank, a massive tank. His colour scheme in most cases is identical to the nostalgic but his actions and appearance match the gladiator background. For example he is shown in flashback brutally killing as an arena fighter.
Part of the issue that goes along with updates, and is probably one of the driving forces is technology. Being able to create intricate designs and being able to print them in a mass scale is a game changer in comics. This allows for these extreme changes in character art. The thing to always remember is to stay true to the character, even flesh them out for the audience to enjoy. One thing I’m beginning to see is Megatron isn’t always this crazy psycho out for pure power, he has brief times of grey area wading. For instance the panel below;
Sometimes you almost want to side with the villain. Especially when his argument is surprisingly reminiscent of Magneto. Back to the topic at hand, comic book character updates; good or bad? I vote good. There is nothing wrong with trying to keep a character current, especially if the back story and characteristics are maintained. Some other noticeable examples of this trend would be Starscream (always a self-serving backstabber), Ironman, Spiderman and the example, Batman.
As just a note this is the most recent incarnation of Megatron (Bayformers never happened).