Heroes and Villians: Optimus Prime and Megatron
The main thing that drives a story is conflict. Where between two conflicting ideas, or two conflicting characters, that constant friction and question of who or what is superior is what keeps us going as readers. In writing terms, characters that embody conflict are known as the protagonist (the character trying to achieve something) and the antagonist (the person trying to stop the protagonist from achieving his or her goals). In most stories, this is usually defined as ‘heroes’ and ‘villains.’ While these labels can be either protagonists or antagonists, they are still important concepts to understand as you develop characters. Therefore, I will be starting a list of characters that effectively portray heroes and villains and delve into what makes them work. To begin with, I will start with two enemies that were two of the earliest examples of heroes and villains for my generation- from Transformers, Optimus Prime and Megatron.
Alien robotic life forms from the planet Cybertron, Optimus Prime and Megatron are the leaders of the two dominant robot factions, the heroic Autobots and evil Decepticons. While both characters have existed in several iterations, the common threads are always that Megatron began the Cybertronian Wars, that Optimus rose to stop him, and that they have both led their factions for countless millennia before coming to Earth. As a result, both characters have a complicated history, and know each either almost as well as they know themselves.
The Traits of Good and Evil
Since Transformers is based on a toyline, it’s easy to pain this rivalry as little more then standard ‘good vs. evil.’ And a large part of what makes Optimus and Megatron effective foes that create great conflict is their differences. Optimus is a wise and compassionate leader, who believes all life is sacred and has often sacrificed himself for the well-being of others, both Autobot and human. Megatron is a megalomaniac, convinced of his superiority and willing to sacrifice anyone and anything to achieve total dominance. Their rise to leader status further confirms this- Megatron rose to power through battle and propaganda, while Optimus was chosen as a Prime due to his compassion and desire to protect all life. Their underlying philosophies make for easy conflict and give both a great amount of determination to succeed, which gives viewers a great deal of interest in the stories.
However, the various iterations of the franchise through TV, film, and comic books, has added a great deal of detail and depth to their relationship. In the beginning, Optimius was actually a follower and friend of Megatron, who spoke of creating a better world. However, Optimus was horrified by Megatron’s methods, which led to his eventual rise as leader of the Autobots. This adds touches of pain and betrayal to their relationship; Prime often regrets the loss of Megatron to darkness, commenting that their desire to better existence still links them, and were it not for their individual philosophies, they might still be allies. Megatron generally ignores this, but a recent portrayal in Transformers Prime, where Optimius is given amnesia and believes Megatron to still be an ally, hints that he may miss their former friendship. And despite their different beliefs, both have proven themselves to be strong leaders that value those under their command. While Megatron does not tolerate failure, he will not allow the total loss of his troops, nor any further damage to Cybertron. As such, he has worked with Optimus when such need arose. The degree of ease at which this happens also speaks to their long forgotten bonds, and deepens both the bitterness and former friendship between them.
The Value for Writers
Toys or not, Megatron and Optimus represent perhaps one of the best examples of the tragic enemies. While it is obvious they will never be able to work together, there is enough history and similarity tying them to together to make each blow they land carry a feeling of tragedy. As such, they echo the best trait of heroes and villains- that one should be an opposing reflection of the other- but also move past the basic nature of good vs. evil. These are two beings that share the dream of improving their world and existence in general, beings that were once friend because of that same desire. It was only their different methods that drove them apart, and it is far more likely they could accomplish more together then they have apart. It makes each blow they take from each other feel that much heavier, and make their rivalry that much more engrossing. A writer that can create this kind of epic and heartfelt rivalry between their characters has all the conflict they need to drive their story.