Best to Worst: 5 Deaths of Optimus Primeon December 1st, 2010
He’s your robot dad. He wants nothing but to keep you safe and happy, and he will sacrifice everything– everything– to make that happen. As he’s proven. Often. Very often.
Best: Killed by Megatron’s Treachery… And His Own Principles (Transformers: The Movie). Like it was going to be anything but this. For all that Crisis on Infinite Earths tried, this was the death scene that hammered home to adolescent me: “Your heroes can really die. No one is safe.” It’s fashionable to hate on Hot Rod for his action here, but c’mon! Megs had a hidden weapon: Hot Rod had to try to save Prime, and a shouted warning might have only distracted Prime. What really kills Optimus here is his inability to even put Hot Rod at risk by firing on Megatron, even though he’s a better shot than William Tell and Megatron is bigger than an apple. Some would call that foolish, but that’s the principle Optimus lives and dies for.
Excellent: Dies to stop Megatron… and remake the world (Transformers: Beast Machines). It’s the look of peace at the end that gets me. Optimus Primal fulfills his function, and the new world beats with his pulse as he passes on.
Good: Sucker-stabbed by Megatron (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen). Arguably Optimus’s cruelest death. After taking on four Decepticons, including Megatron, beating the other three and kicking the crap out of Megatron, Optimus allows his concern for Sam to lower his defenses at just the wrong moment, and then, as a going-away present, gets to hear Megatron’s unforgiving Hugo Weaving voice telling him how weak he is as he goes. Link.
Ehhh: Killed by falling off a building (Transformers: Animated). Revived 75 seconds later when a young girl guns his ignition.
Worst: Killed by principles and incompetence (Transformers comic book). Transformers #24 is a busy comic book. In it, the following things happen:
1 ) Optimus Prime and Megatron introduce their new soldiers, the Protectabots and Combaticons, as if they were rival Steve Jobs imitators at a tech convention.
2 ) Prime tries to talk Megatron out of fighting over some Macguffin or other, since if they fought it would be destroyed. Megatron quite reasonably points out that killing Optimus Prime and his newest soldiers would be an acceptable silver lining.
3 ) A human programmer shows up and suggests they play a VR game for the Macguffin instead. Megatron fails to immediately vaporize him.
4 ) Somehow they agree to not only play this game, but to play it to the death, taking the human’s word that this game has no cheat codes.
5 ) This game totally has a cheat code. It gives you another life.
6 ) Megatron’s lackeys suck at the game but manage to discover the cheat code and pass it along to him in their giant robot voices without the human noticing.
7 ) Optimus Prime “kills” Megatron in the game, fair and square. One cheat code later, Megatron returns and promptly gets killed again. However, some cute little creatures become collateral damage the second time around.
8 ) Apparently unable to see anything wrong about Megatron getting an extra life in the game, Optimus chooses to focus on the innocent yet ENTIRELY FICTIONAL CREATURES he has “killed.” Because, you see, he never would have killed them if they were real, so he’s a cheater. Therefore the only rational course of action is to order the human to blow him to smithereens and leave the Autobots without their leader and strongest soldier in the middle of a war. The human is reluctant to do so, but then Optimus tells him to again, using his loud voice.
9 ) Boom!
10 ) Megatron is so stunned by this development that he can barely manage a single “heh heh.”
In the next issue, Megatron continues to find this series of events so unbelievable that he goes crazy and commits suicide.
(Update: about 17 months after writing this article, I co-produced a riff on this moment and its particular relevance to one of Transformers’ most fervent (fictional) fans. The real challenge was making it any more outrageous than what was already scripted.)
Dishonorable Mention: (Transformers: Kiss Players). I’m just going to quote this article’s primary source directly: “Sometime between 2005 and 2010, Marissa Faireborn revives Optimus using the Galvatron cells in her body. Ultimately, all the cells are put back into Galvatron, and without them, Optimus promptly dies again.” Not having seen this particular series, I can’t really say whether this is half as dumb as it sounds. But it does not fill me with confidence.
For a comparable, longer list, go here.