Resident Transformers fanatic Sean takes a look at the cycloptic Decepticon scientist whose allegiance is as quick to change as a new toy is to be released.
If asked who is the first character to come to mind when prompted with ‘Decepticon’, most people would probably say Megatron, Soundwave or Starscream. The big three are always at the forefront of villainous pop culture icons in the space occupied by the robots in disguise, and the other members of the antagonistic faction tend to fall under the surface-level radar, appreciated only by those who have more than a passing interest in the franchise. I’m talking about ‘cons like Devastator or Blitzwing, who aren’t as immediately recognizable to the average Joe as the big three, but still have a long-lasting legacy.
Of course, there is one Decepticon amongst the ranks who has arguably left a bigger impression than most. A Decepticon whose appearances across multiple iterations of the Transformers franchise tend to have ramifications on the universe at large. If the title of the article didn’t already clue you into who I’m talking about here, then allow me to introduce Shockwave.
He’s had many appearances throughout the franchise’s 38 years, with a design that’s been largely consistent and often accompanied by a personality driven entirely by facts and logic. In this article I’m going to be looking at Shockwave’s most notable appearances throughout the franchise. This is not intended to be viewed as a comprehensive and detailed examination of Shockwave, instead it’s more of a general overview of his most notable roles. Not every single incarnation will be covered, so I apologize if your favourite iteration doesn’t make an appearance. For a far more comprehensive look at more of Shockwave’s incarnations and figures, we suggest watching Chris Mcfeely’s The Basics on Shockwave.
As is with the case with the rest of the original cast, Shockwave originates from Japan. Unlike the rest of its contemporaries that are adapted from Takara’s Diaclone and Micro Change toy lines however, the toy that would later become Shockwave actually came from a completely separate company, ToyCo. The dark grey ‘Astro Magnum’, as it was originally known, would eventually find its way to the West, joining the other cross-continent bots as part of the Transformers cast under new names. Despite Shockwave’s purple-ness being consistent since his (American) inception, the original dark grey toy still remains relevant thanks to a Radioshack-exclusive release as Galactic Man. Cool name, right?
To accompany and promote the toys, Transformers spawned various multimedia outlets through which it could portray the characters. At the dawn of the franchise, it was the 1984 Sunbow cartoon and Marvel comic series that truly showed kids just who these robots were and the sorts of adventures they embarked on. Though these two concurrently-running stories featured mostly consistent characters and personalities, Shockwave’s portrayal is one of the finest examples of how diverse the characterization of any one entity within the franchise can be. Whilst characters like Megatron and Starscream remained their same villainous, scheming selves across both the comics and the cartoon, Shockwave was essentially two entirely different characters.
In the cartoon, Shockwave was a staunchly loyal follower of Megatron, a high-ranking Decepticon scientist who was entrusted with the care of planet Cybertron whilst the leader took the rest of his forces to Earth, where most of the cartoon takes place. In the millions of years since he’d been left in charge, Cybertron remained much the same, albeit with fewer inhabitants. When the conflict between the reawakened Autobots and Decepticons inevitably led them back to the planet, Shockwave was quick to get his hand
s dirty and provide his leader with new inventions and technological breakthroughs to give them the edge in the struggle. Since he rarely left Cybertron his appearances in the cartoon were brief, but his occasional starring role and uniquely cycloptic design made Shockwave a memorable character that I personally always looked forward to seeing more of.
His fate in the cartoon was left uncertain; as was the case with many, many other characters Shockwave was supposed to die in the 1986 movie, but the scene of his death never made it onto the screen. This was later confirmed and shown in a comic adaptation of said movie, but just going by the on-screen continuity I’d like to think he survived.
Shockwave in the original Marvel comic, on the other hand, was anything but loyal to Megatron. Rather than being left behind on Cybertron, Shockwave in this continuity actually followed the others to Earth but became entangled with the planet’s magnetic field and wound up crashing just the same. However, rather than getting entombed along with the rest, Shockwave immediately began to set about enacting his own plans but was ultimately stopped by a group of reactivated Autobots who had been reformatted into this continuity’s Dinobots. In the ensuing scuffle, Shockwave and his foes became trapped and buried in a tar pit beneath a mountain, where they would remain for a few million years. He was awoken not too long after the others, and made his grand, explosive reappearance following the Autobot’s victory over the Decepticons during the comic’s initial run. What followed was arguably one of, if not the most iconic cover of all Transformers comics, that has been referenced numerous times since:
Following his reappearance, Shockwave established himself as a powerful foe to be feared, dissecting the Autobots and stringing their parts up in ghoulish displays. Not only that, but Shockwave declared that it would only be logical for him to lead the Decepticons instead of Megatron, who had proven to be ineffective. What followed was a power struggle between the two, with Shockwave frequently emerging victorious. The disparity between the two portrayals of Shockwave would prove to be an effective formula that would be revisited in later entries in the Transformers franchise, with writers freely choosing to use the loyal cycloptic follower of Megatron, or the cold and calculating scientist with logic-driven ambitions of his own.
The early 2000’s trio of Armada, Energon, and Cybertron cartoons became retroactively labelled as the ‘Unicron Trilogy’, and Shockwave made his appearance right in the middle during Energon. Hasbro not always owning the trademark of the names of several characters for periods of time was a semi-common occurrence, and Shockwave himself fell on his ass during this round of nomenclature musical chairs. Sporting a more varied colour scheme and a much larger arm cannon, Shockblast was a vicious and somewhat psychotic Decepticon who loved to blow stuff up. In stark contrast to his usually-emotionless and logic-driven persona, Shockblast was emotionally driven and frequently came to blows with his fellow Decepticons, even going so far as to insult Megatron! Though Energon was admittedly… not great, I found its take on Shockwave to be an interesting curveball both narratively and aesthetically. Seriously, I dig the giant arm cannon. I wonder if that’ll ever come back.
Shockwave’s IDW comics incarnation is by far the most complex and sprawling exploration of the character. A master planner in every sense of the word, it’s through Shockwave’s incredibly meticulously laid-out schemes that most of the events of the story as a whole even take place! Once an ambitious senator who had befriended Optimus Prime (then known as Orion Pax) with hopes of steering the planet away from its corrupted state towards a brighter future, Shockwave ran afoul of the ruling class and wound up kidnapped and subjected to a procedure called ‘Shadowplay’. This rendered him emotionless and driven purely by logic, detached from such useless bonds like an allegiance to a cause or companionship. Purely out of spite, Shockwave was also subjected to ‘Empurata,’ a procedure that robs a Cybertronian of their physical identity, rendering them a one-eyed, maimed machine. These procedures in conjunction gave rise to the familiar cycloptic purple ‘con and strangely enough, Shockwave actually found the affair liberating, since it allowed him to finally focus on his one true goal of keeping Cyberton alive through any means necessary.
Following that, it was business as usual for Shockwave, or so we were led to believe. In actuality, Shockwave was plotting behind the scenes with a series of lengthy plans that wound up with him being thrown back in time, integrating himself into the history of Cybertron and planting the seeds of prophecy and doom which would come to fruition millions of years later. With far-reaching plans such as scattering powerful ‘ores’ throughout the galaxy, forging a connection with a dead universe to welcome long-lost villains home, and even being involved in the arrival of the monster-planet Unicron, IDW’s Shockwave certainly left his mark on the galaxy at large and cemented himself as one of the story’s most important players. Seriously, so much can be attributed to Shockwave’s machinations that the IDW version of the character could fill a whole article by himself!
The Live-Action Movies
Shockwave’s appearances in Michael Bay’s live-action movie universe were actually more varied than you may think. Though he is most known for being a (sadly) tertiary villain in Dark of the Moon, that wasn’t exactly his first foray into this continuity.
Despite not being present in the first movie of the series, Shockwave did appear in the movie’s obligatory tie-in game as a boss for Optimus to fight. He had absolutely no impact on the story and the game isn’t even canon to the already tenuous timeline, but he was still there. Following that was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in Revenge of the Fallen on a newspaper clipping flying past the camera.
in 2011 Shockwave made his first official, in-character debut during Transformers: Dark of the Moon. After seeing the first theatrical trailer, I assumed that he would be the movie’s big bad, possibly ousting Megatron from power or arriving to give his scientific assistance. Unfortunately, the finished product didn’t quite deliver on any of that and Shockwave fell to the wayside as little more than a powerful warrior while Dark of the Moon’s true villains took centre stage. After a cool entrance at the abandoned Chornobyl plant, Shockwave sort of takes a leave of absence until the film’s final battle, where he is subjected to a rather embarrassing death at the hands of Optimus Prime and some parachuting soldiers.
Luckily the movie’s tie-in comics did a better job of showing Shockwave as an actual character, and revealed his own history in this continuity. After crash-landing on Earth in 1908 (explained as the cause of the real-life Tunguska Event) Shockwave fell into stasis and was discovered by Soviet scientists, who studied and reverse engineered technology from him in a similar vein to how the US government handled Megatron. After waking up, he joins up with the rest of the Decepticons and aids them in their conquest, butting heads with Starscream along the way.
Shockwave makes a brief appearance during Bumblebee’s opening scene, sporting a design closer to his classic appearance.
The Aligned Continuity
In the 2010s, Hasbro made the decision to consolidate different entries under one encompassing umbrella that would be known as the ‘Aligned Continuity.’ This included:
- The War for Cybertron videogame and its sequels
- Transformers Prime, Robots in Disguise, and the Rescue Bots cartoons
- Tie-in novels and comics
Though they were considered to be part of one continuity, the links between entries were often flimsy and certain details didn’t line up. Hasbro higher-ups even went so far as to say that the continuity was meant to be viewed in a broader lens that lines up if you squint at it, essentially letting us know that they’re aware of the issues, but to just not worry about it.
Shockwave was not present during War for Cybertron’s story, only making an appearance as a bonus playable character in the game’s extra modes. In Fall of Cybertron, Shockwave was researching ways to reboot the dying planet, eventually discovering the ancient technology of space bridges, which could be used to easily travel to other planets and bleed them of their resources. After some time searching he discovered Earth, and deduced that it would prove sufficient for his nefarious purposes. During his observations, he witnessed large reptilian forms inhabiting the planet. These observations would aid in his next experiments, involving experimentation on five captured Autobots. This led to the creation of the Dinobots, of course.
Following Megatron’s (temporary) death near the start of the game, Shockwave had to suffer Starscream’s leadership whilst continuing his work. He was aided by his army of Insecticons, impeded the Autobots efforts, and eventually succeeded in getting the space bridge to work. Following Megatron’s resurrection, Starscream was given the boot and promptly released Shockwave’s captive Dinobots in a vain attempt to coerce them into serving him. After embarking on a rampage throughout Shockwave’s facility, the Dinobots cornered the scientist and tore him apart. Lovely.
Shockwave made a grand reappearance during Transformers Prime, sporting a rather spiky and bulky look, with a big cannon arm to boot. Just as he did in Fall of Cybertron, Shockwave was responsible for unleashing more monstrous Transformers upon the world, this time being responsible for cloning the ancient Predacons. Shockwave once again stayed behind on Cybertron to commit to his research work, engineering space bridge technology that would later be used to assist the Decepticons.
Prime Shockwave proved to be an effective and dangerous foe, coming to blows with most of the Autobots and being able to hold his own in combat. His experiments were nothing to scoff at either, with perhaps his greatest accomplishment being the creation of the monstrous warrior Predaking, a being so powerful even Megatron feared him!
The Transformers Animated incarnation of Shockwave is a wily master of disguise who uses deceit and stealth tactics to once again enact a series-spanning plot that could have devastating consequences for the Autobots. This time around, Shockwave’s plan involves disguising himself as an Autobot named Longarm Prime and integrating himself into the upper echelons of Cybertron’s security forces. Under the guise of Longarm, Shockwave was able to simultaneously undermine the efforts of the Autobots whilst feeding classified information straight back to Megatron, the Autobots none the wiser.
During his process of rising through the ranks Shockwave met many fellow candidates such as young Bumblebee and his friend Wasp. On one occasion which nearly led to his cover being blown, Shockwave seized the opportunity to instead divert the attention towards Wasp, leading to him being framed as a traitor and arrested, which caused an immediate rift to form between Bumblebee and his friend.
Following his successful infiltration, Shockwave continued to harass the Autobots from within, even going so far as taking their supreme commander offline!
Why He’s My Favourite
Time for the personal bias part. Though he faces some stiff competition from others such as most of the cast of More Than Meets the Eye (see my article gushing about that comic), Shockwave is by and large my favourite character in Transformers.
Whether he’s a loyal follower of Megatron or a scientist with ambitions of his own, Shockwave is always a treat to see. His unique design truly makes him stand out from the rest, and his flip-flopping loyalty depending on the media keeps you engaged and wondering what he’s going to pull out of his (metal) sleeve next. In a sense, Shockwave is like the antithesis of Transformers itself; robots in media are often presented as emotionless creations that set about to perform a given task, but the Transformers franchise went out of its way to portray the robots as living, thinking beings that could feel emotions and express themselves. They have their own agendas, often deviating from their current goals (usually war) to partake in other activities or pursuits. Shockwave, though? Shockwave is the exact opposite of that and is explicitly shown as being emotionless and disconnected, motivated entirely by a cold rationality that facilitates far-reaching goals that usually stretch beyond petty matters such as faction allegiance or attachment to other beings.
He’s like the perfect robot in its purest form, and that’s why I find him so interesting. Nothing can stand in the way of his own, mostly selfless ambitions. He doesn’t want to oust Megatron from power and lead the Decepticons himself, he simply deems it to be the most logical outcome. Hell, he even purposefully stepped down from power to let Megatron resume command when he deemed it to be the logical choice at the time! He knows the likely outcome of a given situation and plans a hundred steps ahead to prepare his own answer for it, even at the cost of potentially millions of lives. He’s one of the most iconic villains of the franchise and as long as he is used sparingly with screen time devoted to showcasing his capabilities I hope to see him used a lot more in future Transformers media. I love the purple cyclops scientist, and it would only be logical that he is my favorite.
Sean Hollyman is an avid fan of action figures, videogames and sometimes other things too. When he's not labourously trying to earn platinum trophies for games that he otherwise probably wouldn't care about, Sean can often be found taking photos of his Transformers in embarrassing situations.
Favorite Food: Roast Dinner
Least Favorite Food: ANYTHING with mayonnaise in it