The Transformers Prime cartoon has brought some great additions to the franchise. If I had to list my personal favourites I would probably include: Knock Out (don’t even ask me how much I love Knock out); Arcee as a blue motorcycle, and Vehicons. Now AddAltModeB would probably headdesk himself into unconsciousness if I devoted a whole Top Ten article just to Knock Out (although I totally could do it), and Prime Arcee gets plenty of love on this blog already, so today I’m going to talk Vehicons.
The term ”Vehicon” isn’t unique to Prime, but that show is responsible for introducing them as the Stormtroopers of the TF universe: that is, as Deception henchbots, mostly identical and always nameless (Starscream usually refers to them as “You there,” the TF fandom typically calls them all “Steve”). Usually turning in to sleek cars or jets, Steves have a fantastic design – and the Deluxe Vehicon toy is truly one of the nicest figures in the Prime toy range – but their looks don’t negate the fact that they cannot aim a blaster if their lives depended on it (which often they do) and that they exist largely as cannon fodder. The Vehicons are actually threatening for about, ooh three quarters of the duration of the first episode. After that it’s pretty clear they’re just going to be mooks, who exist to provide scale and some kick-ass fight scenes in a show that otherwise has a very small cast of characters.
We may not know their names, but Vehicons are responsible for some really memorable scenes in the Transformers Prime TV show, both in terms of action and humour, and many many Vehicons gave their lives to make that series what it was. This post will honour the fallen ones. Although honour doesn’t always bring respect.
WARNING: Contains spoilers for all 3 seasons of TF Prime.
Many Vehicons were harmed in the making of this blog post….
10. Doctor of Doom
One of the few times the Vehicons seem genuinely threatening is in “Harder, Faster”: here the Autobots are vulnerable as their energon supplies are almost exhausted, and an injured Arcee has been overwhelmed by a large gang of Vehicons. As much as I hate how this episode puts Arcee in the clichéd (and uncharacteristic) ”damsel in distress” role, it does set up for an absolutely fantastic fight scene with a protagonist who is in an equally uncharacteristic (though more explicable) position: Ratchet. Toked up on synthetic energon, the good doctor demolishes a whole squad of Steves in one of the show’s best action sequences.
9. “Pick on someone your own size”
Nameless thugs are usually bullies and the Steves are well characterised in this respect. I love how they seem so cocky and confident when the odds are overwhelmingly in their favour, but oh how quickly the tables can turn. There’s a great moment of this in “Deadlock” involving the human kids. As the space bridge opens to reveal a solitary Jack, the Vehicons look so goddamn pleased with themselves, as if to say “4 of us versus a single unarmed teenager, even we can’t screw this up” – but then, of course, bullies get what they deserve (in TV shows at least, sadly not always in life) and Jack is rapidly followed by an Apex Armour-suited Miko.
8. Test Subject
Of course, it isn’t just the Autobots and their human friends who pose a threat to the Vehicons. The trouble with being a henchbot is that you’re just as likely to get offed by your own side as by your enemies. In “Deus Ex Machina” Starscream acquires the Energon Harvester. In order to demonstrate its power – and to threaten an increasingly insubordinate Knock Out and Breakdown into obedience – he needs a test subject. The Autobots have gone by this point but he doesn’t have to look far for a unsuspecting volunteer. V is Vehicon; V is for volunteer.
7. Bombed Out
Season 3 introduced Starscream’s Vehicon Armada, a group of allegedly “elite” Seeker Vehicons, who can be mildly threatening in large enough numbers but who contine to display the fatal henchbot flaw of blindly following orders. A memorable example of this is in “Chain of Command”: the Decepticons think they’ve outsmarted Wheeljack by allowing him to escape their custody while fitted with a hidden tracking device, but the Wrecker ”who enjoys explosive devices” turns the tables, discovering the implant and attaching it instead – as is his way – to a bomb. A non-Steve character may have been suspicious when they arrive at the coordinates and find nothing but a log in a stream. Starscream’s Armada just obey their orders, remaining steadfastly at the tracked coordinates while their doom approaches on the current. I almost feel sorry for them.
6. Guarding fail
Villainy 101: never leave a minion guarding a prisoner. They WILL escape. It’s an age old trope, but sometimes the old ones are the best. It’s used really effectively in the first season of Prime as a way of establishing Wheeljack’s badassery right from his introductory episode. Sure’s he tied up on the Decepticon warship and none of his allies know he’s there, but no biggie. If he can just lure the guard to come close enough…
It’s a great introduction to Wheeljack, whose overall Vehicon death count must be one of the highest in the series despite the fact that he doesn’t become a regular team member until the final season.
5. Refuelling stop
Another henchbot trope is the act of learning an important lesson far too late in the day. In “Darkmount, NV” two Vehicons get some vital schooling in chemistry, albeit rather too belatedly to put it to any use. The Vehicons are chasing Arcee and Jack, who are exposed and vulnerable, but who just happen to know a thing or two more about petrol stations than their pursuers. Vehicons turn into cars or jets ; these two are jets. With a vehicle based alt-mode you’d think they’d know a little bit about earth based fuels and specifically how flammable they are, but no, these guys genuinely thought a petrol station was a great place for a shoot out.
4. Friendly Fire
Vehicon guns look pretty slick with their pink-ended triangular design. Unfortunately they are clearly manufactured by the same place that makes Stormtrooper blasters because, like those iconic mook weapons, they seem to be impossible to aim. Vehicons do a lot more shooting than they do hitting. In ”Inside Job,” however, a group of Steves do manage to hit something: each other. They find Smokescreen in a corridor and pin him from either side: with so many of them against just one Autobot it seems likely that someone would manage to shoot the target eventually. However, Smokescreen has equipped himself with the phaseshifter, so he just phases out, watching as the beams pass harmlessly through him and the two groups of Vehicons shoot each other in what must be – ironically – the most accurate marksmanship they’ve ever displayed. It’s like rai-ai-ain on your wedding day.
3. I, Zombie
“Thirst” – the “zombie episode” – is one of the crowningly awesome moments in Transformers Prime and it contains not only Vehicon deaths but Vehicon undeaths. It’s also a showcase for wonderfully poor decision making by Decepticons. Mixing dark energon and synth-energon and injecting Mech-Silas with it was one such bad decision. But Starscream’s follow-up action – to leave the, ahem, “highly trained Vehicon troopers” to sort out the ensuing zombie mess is probably even more foolhardy. I absolutely love the scene in which Starscream and Knock Out argue over whose fault it is, while behind them the corpse of a supposedly dead Vehicon gradually shuffles back into energon-hungry reanimation.
How do you kill an undead Vehicon anyway? “Remove the head and destroy the CPU” suggests Knock Out, who has apparently “seen human horror movies….. at drive-in theatres.” Damn I love this show.
2. No peace for the wicked
Even in peacetime, being a Steve is a risky business. By the time of the Predacons Rising TV movie, the war with Megatron’s forces is over and the Autobots have turned their attention to the restoring their ravaged planet. Surely, those few Vehicons who have actually made it this far can now be safe in this new era of peace? Apparently not. Bulkhead puts this group to work on a rebuilding project that makes you wonder why Team Prime wasted all that energy and ammo shooting at these guys before when they could have just given the Steves some building materials and allowed them to destroy themselves….
And so to my number one Vehicon death…
1. Not the droid he was looking for
Presumably the Vehicons do all have individual identities. B and I have speculated before over whether or not any of the Decepticon commanders would know any of their troops’ names. Can they tell them apart? Starscream’s habit of addressing all of them as ”you there” suggests not. And the action in ”Inside Job” certainly confirms that Megatron can’t identify their alt-modes. You have to watch this one:
I think this moment, when Megatron chucks a car Vehicon off the side of the Nemesis, having mistaken him for a jet, is at once the funniest and saddest Vehicon death in the show.
Steves, you may be kind of useless but you look cool and your – often brief – presence makes the world of Prime a richer place.
So here’s to you, Vehicons *raises a glass* oops, watch what you’re doing with that glass now, uh oh, too late….