#MyFavoriteCharacter: Optimus Prime

“What’s your favorite book?” “What’s your favorite movie?” “Who’s your favorite music artist?” These are tough questions, and I can never give a single answer to any of them. But how about this one: “Who is your most favorite character in any story medium — book, movie, folk story, whatever?” Although that sounds like it should be a far more difficult question, I can answer it definitively and without hesitation.

optimusprimeMy favorite character ever is Optimus Prime.

Transformers wasn’t my first fandom. That distinction goes to Bozo the Clown or even Mr. Fred Rogers. But when I saw Transformers for the first time, I was immediately enthralled. Eight-year-old me was very much into giant robots from outer space waging their war of good vs. evil on our world. (Spoiler: so is forty-year-old me.)

I adored Wheeljack, the Autobot scientist. I loved imitating the distinct voices of Jazz and Ironhide. Who doesn’t love scrappy little Bumblebee? And even the bad guys were cool, like Megatron, Soundwave, and Shockwave — especially Shockwave. But they were all overshadowed by the Autobot leader, Optimus Prime.

I’ve thought a lot about it, and there are three qualities about Prime that sharply define him. And what makes him so special to me isn’t any one of these qualities, it’s the whole that emerges when all three come together.

There’s a line in “The Touch” by Stan Bush, the theme song of the 1986 animated Transformers film, that epitomizes Prime: “And you never give in when your back’s to the wall.” Prime never, ever gives up. If at first he fails miserably, he gets right back up and tries again. The best example of this is in the final minutes of “More Than Meets the Eye,” the original three-part pilot story of the Transformers cartoon. The Decepticons are leaving Earth victorious. They’ve secured a shipload of Earth’s resources, and they’re heading back home to Cybertron. But is Prime ready to give up? No, he is not!

Lots of characters are determined and don’t give up easily. But Prime pairs that determination with strength, both physical and mental. Take a look at his specifications card from the box of his original action figure:

Source: TF Archive

Strength: 10! Endurance: 10! Courage: 10! Skill: 10! Intelligence: 10!

To be fair, I think his skill and intelligence scores are a bit high. He’s extraordinarily skilled at what he does best — leadership, destroying Decepticons — but he’s not a medic like Ratchet or a scientist like Wheeljack or Perceptor. But his strength, endurance, and courage numbers are right on. Very few Transformers are stronger than Optimus Prime, and most of those that are — Devastator, Unicron — are stronger purely because physically they’re much larger.

If determination were enough, Batman or Luke Skywalker would be my favorite character. If strength were enough, it would be the Hulk or Voltron. But what truly makes Prime superior is his never-ending determination, backed by his ultimate strength, all at the service of protecting the weakest among us.

“Freedom is the right of all sentient beings” is Prime’s motto, and he lives it. As a child who wasn’t very physically tough, I looked at Prime as if he were the biggest, strongest kid in my class, but one who used his power to protect the weak, not to torment them.

Watch this scene from Transformers: Dark of the Moon in which Prime, in just one minute, single-handedly fights through 11 Decepticons — including Shockwave — to defend the people of Chicago. There is simply no better moment that summarizes how Prime’s determination, strength, and protection of the weak all come together to make him into my all-time favorite fictional character.

I can’t say I’m the world’s greatest Optimus Prime fan. That honor would probably have to go to the guy who had his name legally changed to “Optimus Prime.” But nevertheless, Autobot leader Optimus Prime gets my vote for the greatest character ever created.

What if you had to pick your all-time favorite character? Guess what — you do have to!* Write about it on your blog or on Facebook or Twitter or here in the comments or wherever. Hashtag it #MyFavoriteCharacter and let me know who you like best.

* Actually, you don’t have to. But it would be pretty great if you did.

Three favorites: superheroes

Jerry Seinfeld once said, “But when men are growing up and are reading about Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, these aren’t fantasies. These are options.” This was definitely true of me. One of my earliest favorite TV shows was Batman (1966). I have a picture of myself at four or five years old proudly wearing a Spider-Man mask. And my grandmother had hundreds of books at her farm, but I usually only read one: a paperback containing reprints of several Batman comic book stories.

Choosing my three favorite superheroes out of all the great ones out there just might be a job for Superman, but watch me try. Up, up, and away!

Credit: DC Comics

The Flash
Growing up, I knew of The Flash, I enjoyed the 1990 TV series starring John Wesley Shipp, and I owned a handful of Flash comic books, but he was never one of my favorite superheroes. About ten years ago, that changed. Barry Allen has a single superpower — he’s really fast — but over the years, his writers have been enormously creative with the possible applications of that power. He can run up buildings or on water. He can vibrate so quickly the molecules of his body move faster than those that make up bricks and concrete, allowing him to walk through walls. And just like the starship Enterprise, he’s so fast he can travel backward and forward in time. The ultimate irony is Barry Allen is so scatterbrained, even his super-speed can’t prevent him from always being late. Brilliant!

It doesn’t hurt that The Flash has a rogues’ gallery second only to Batman’s, one loaded with colorful, fun villains like Captain Cold, Mirror Master, and the Trickster. And sometime in the 1990s, a mystical element was added to the Flash mythos: the Speed Force.

I didn’t own my first Flash t-shirt until I was 35 or 36, so I’m as late to the party as Barry Allen is to everything. But arrived, I have — The Flash is my number one superhero.

Credit: DC Comics

When The Flash became my favorite superhero, he dethroned Batman, but I still have a deep love for the Caped Crusader. As a little boy, I wanted to be Batman. My local comic book store sold the novelization of the 1989 Batman movie about two weeks before the film arrived in theaters, and I read that sucker faster than any novel I’ve read before or since.

I don’t need to justify Batman’s inclusion in this list. If he’s not the most popular superhero in the world, he’s in the top three. For me, his appeal comes down to his intelligence and his preparedness. Batman isn’t the strongest superhero, but he’s definitely one of the smartest, and he is constantly prepared for anything. There’s always something in his utility belt to help him out of a jam — or even better, he can always come up with a plan to outwit or outsmart his adversaries.

So many of his stories rank among the classics of sequential art: The Dark Knight ReturnsYear OneThe Killing JokeThe Long HalloweenHush. Television has given us Batman: The Animated Series and film has given us Christopher Nolan’s three Batman films. We can’t get enough Batman. To the Batcave!

Credit: Wild Cards Wikia

The Great and Powerful Turtle
George R. R. Martin is best known for A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones, but I know him best as the editor of the shared-world anthology book series Wild Cards. In Wild Cards, an alien virus was released on Earth in the 1930s. Those whom the virus left physically deformed are called Jokers. But some of the virus’s victims drew an Ace and received super powers.

Lots of great writers have contributed to Wild Cards throughout the years, and the series contains some great characters, but my favorite of them is one created by Martin himself. Thomas Tudbury is a gentle, quiet, comic book-loving man who is also the world’s most powerful telekinetic. However, he’s so timid and so scared, his powers become nearly useless unless he feels completely secure. He makes a “shell” out of an old VW beetle and flies around New York City inside it, fighting crime. When asked who he is, Tom turns on the shell’s external speakers and says, “I am the Turtle.” Then, thinking better, he cranks the speakers to maximum and declares, “I AM THE GREAT AND POWERFUL TURTLE!”

Though it has been many years since I’ve kept up-to-date with the Wild Cards series, I’ve never forgotten The Great and Powerful Turtle. He is such a cleverly designed and fun character. Don’t kill him off, George!

Observant readers will note I didn’t include any Marvel Comics heroes in this list. I have nothing but love for Marvel’s heroes, especially the X-Men. I’ve just always loved the DC heroes a bit more. Put me in Team Justice League.

So those are my three favorite superheroes. Who are yours? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

Three Favorites: Witches

Halloween is less than two weeks away, so I thought it was time for a Halloween-inspired Three Favorites: witches!

Hermione Granger
Honestly, Ron, could the top spot go to anyone but the brightest witch of her age? My oldest two boys are too young yet for anything but the first and second Harry Potter books, but I’ve already told them: Hermione is always right. Always.* If Harry just listened to Hermione the first time, we’d have a Harry Potter series of short stories instead of novels. She’s bright, she’s caring, she’s funny, she’s pretty (again with the surprise). In short, she’s everything I want my daughters to be. Once they’re old enough, I can’t wait to introduce them to a great role model in Hermione Granger.

* Except for the one very notable exception where she spent a whole year insisting Draco wasn’t up to anything, and it turned out he was.

(Confession: I still have never read Hogwarts: A History. Sorry, Hermione.)

CeciliaAdlehydeCecilia Lynne Adleyhde from Wild Arms
Sorceress, Princess of Adlehyde, Innocent One. Cecilia is the heart of the trio of Dream Chasers that save Filgaia in Wild Arms. Years before Elsa or Merida, she declared that she would forge her path, not anyone else. “I will no longer force myself to be the perfect princess,” she says in the game’s emotional conclusion. “From now on, I will be an ordinary 17-year-old girl.”

Except there’s nothing ordinary about Cecilia. She excels in magic until she can even cast two spells at once. She embraces her role as the planet’s ambassador to the Guardians. She tames the Earth Golem. She says “What the hey?” and participates in a fake wedding on the high seas. She learns that to be loved, you must first love.

I’ve recently been introducing my oldest two sons to Wild Arms. The oldest’s favorite character is Jack, the second oldest’s favorite is Rudy. They asked me to settle the tie. I think they were surprised when I said, “Cecilia.”

Also: one of my daughters has the middle name Cecilia after Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music, but also after Cecilia Lynne Adlehyde.

SW_QueenThe Evil Queen
The most iconic Disney villain of them all (though – sorry, your majesty – not the fairest of them all). It’s not every day you see a villain that is wise enough to be an extraordinarily powerful magic user but also driven by a base, petty motivation: vanity. Aside from the original portrayal of the character in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, I also dig her appearances in the Kingdom Keepers novel series. And of course, the Once Upon a Time version of the character, Regina Mills, is one of the show’s best villains. (Though the number one spot on that list goes to Mr. Gold, dearie.)

Honorable Mentions: Kyra Tierney from Phantasy Star IV, Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service, Luna Lovegood, and Minerva McGonagal.

Tell me about your favorite witch or three in the comments.

Three favorites: DS9 episodes

DS9crewRight now I’m reading Star Trek: Typhon Pact — Rough Beasts of Empire by David R. George III and before that I finished Star Trek: Typhon Pact — Zero Sum Game. That’s right, I’m getting caught up on the post-series Deep Space Nine books.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is, along with the original Twilight Zone, my favorite TV series of all time. With so many great episodes, is it possible for me to pick my top three? I found it wasn’t just possible, it was actually pretty easy.

“What You Leave Behind”
The final episode! “To the best crew any captain ever had. This may be the last time we’re all together. But no matter what the future holds, no matter how far we travel, a part of us… a very important part, will always remain here, on Deep Space 9.”

“In the Pale Moonlight”
All of DS9 asked the question, “How far to you go to defend paradise?” This episode pushed that question to its limits. “So… I lied. I cheated. I bribed men to cover the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But the most damning thing of all… I think I can live with it. And if I had to do it all over again, I would. Garak was right about one thing, a guilty conscience is a small price to pay for the safety of the Alpha Quadrant. So I will learn to live with it. Because I can live with it. I can live with it… Computer, erase that entire personal log.”

Also: “It’s a fake!”

“The Visitor”
Jake Sisko spends his entire life — and makes the ultimate sacrifice — to save his father. “To my father, who’s coming home.”

Honorable mentions: “Far Beyond the Stars,” “Duet,” and 171 others.

Three favorites: Muppets

Deadspin recently ranked the Muppets from best to worst. There’s a lot to like about their list. It includes Muppets some might overlook, like Mahna Mahna, Beauregard, and 80s Robot. And overall the author got it pretty right.

Except the list puts the very best Muppet of them all dead last on the list, after getting hit by a bus!

The correct three best Muppets are:

  1. Scooter
  2. Ernie
  3. Rowlf

Also, the video below is the best of the new “Muppet Moments” on Disney Junior, and it includes (at 0:57) what might be the funniest Fozzie joke of all time.

Three favorites: Tomorrowland attractions

(NOTE: This is actually last week’s Three Favorites. I’m a little behind. A new one for this week will arrive later today.)

Brad Bird’s new film Tomorrowland was released this weekend. I can’t wait to see it, which means my wife and I won’t see it until it’s on Netflix. It looks like I’ll really enjoy it: retro future, tons of Disney history references, and the director of The Iron Giant and The Incredibles. And it’s named after one of the original lands of Disneyland — and that I do know something about. So here’s my three favorite Tomorrowland attractions.

The Carousel of Progress
My kids think this show is kind of neat, but they don’t get why Daddy goes so crazy for it. Let’s see: it was one of the attractions Walt made for the 1964-65 World’s Fair, its themes of technical innovation and human progress are huge components of the spirit of Walt Disney, and it’s a show performed entirely by Audio-Animatronic figures in a spinning theater-in-the-round! Oh, and it has a great Sherman Brothers earworm theme song. What’s not to love?

Space Mountain
This one really doesn’t need any explanation, does it? People often call this a “roller coaster in the dark” but that’s not entirely accurate — at least not when talking about Disneyland’s far superior (compared to Walt Disney World) version. It is a roller coaster through outer space, with a great on-board soundtrack. My three oldest children are all tall enough to ride and they’ve all conquered this one with me. By far, it’s the most exciting ride in all of Disneyland.

Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters
The final spot on the list was a tough one for me, because I love, love, love Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, and so do my three oldest children. But everyone in my family, including the short young kids, can ride Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters, and they all love it. Plus, this attraction is the perfect “one last ride before we leave” ride since it usually doesn’t have a very long line late at night and it’s just a stone’s throw from Main Street, USA. And it’s fun to walk past the talking Buzz Lightyear figure in the queue and shout at him, “You are a toy! You’re a child’s plaything!”

Honorable mentions: Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, the Peoplemover, and cheeseburgers from Tomorrowland Terrace.

Three favorites: princesses

On Friday, my beloved bride and I welcomed our third daughter into the world.  In honor of her arrival, this week I’ll list my three favorite princesses.

Well, my three favorite princesses other than my daughters, that is.

One of the newest princesses on the block tops my list because of how much her story and her song has meant to me and my eldest daughter, Gianna.  Frozen and “Let It Go” came out around the same time I first read one of my favorite books, Quiet by Susan Cain.  This was also the time I was learning about what it meant to be an introvert, an HSP, and an INFJ.  These insights were eye-opening and liberating.  They led me to make many changes in my life that seemed subtle on the surface but provided immense positive change to my inner life.  In other words, I learned how to let it go around the same time Elsa did.

Elsa is also the favorite princess of my eldest daughter, Gianna, who our family often refers to as my clone.  Like me, she’s deeply introverted but her love for and bond with Elsa has helped her to deal with this loud, busy world we live in.  During our last trip to Disneyland, she made the amazing step, for her, of reaching out and holding Elsa’s hand when we met her.

It also helps that Elsa has super cool ice powers and that my personal interpretation is that she’s an introvert, too.  In fact, I’d love to make a custom t-shirt for my next Disneyland visit with Elsa and Belle and “I ♥ Introvert Princesses” on it.

Leia Organa
Look up “strong female character” on Wikipedia and I’m certain you’ll find a picture of Princess Leia Organa.  She’s so well known, I don’t think I even have to explain this one much.  Just remember that she is not a committee, and that someone has to save our skins.  I so can’t wait to see her again in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Alis Landale
The original Phantasy Star is my all-time favorite video game, and one of my all-time favorite stories from any medium.  While not nearly as well known as Princess Leia, Alis is her equal in courage and determination.  As a teenager, she vows to avenge her brother’s death. even though it means taking on the king of the Algol star system.  And she does!

Honorable mentions: Cecilia Lynne Adlehyde from Wild Arms, Vanellope Von Schweetz from Wreck-It Ralph, Disney princesses Snow White and Aurora, and Dejah Thoris from Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Barsoom series.

Want to give me a high-five for this list?  Do you beg to differ?  Or just want to make your own Three Favorites list?  Drop me a line in the comments.

Three favorites: Todd edition

My son Todd and Stitch at Paradise Pier hotel, March 2015Yesterday would have been my brother Todd’s 37th birthday, so for this week’s three favorites, I’m doing something a little different.  Starting from the time he left home for college, there were three major places where Todd lived.  Here’s my favorite story that takes place in each of them.

Chicago: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
There are lots of good candidates for this one.  Steelheart takes place in Newcago, and Divergent takes place in post-apocalyptic Chicago.  Classic films like Poltegeist IIIThe Blues Brothers, and While You Were Sleeping take place there.  And if you count John Hughes movies that take place in the suburbs, then there are lots of great Chicago stories.  But the most definitive one is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Japan: The Karate Kid, Part II
Thanks to Japanese anime there are a ton of candidates for this one.  Akira and Miyazaki films PonyoMy Neighbor Totorto, and Kiki’s Delivery Service all come to mind.  But without a doubt my favorite is The Karate Kid, Part II.  Cue up “I am the man who will fight for your honor…”

Hawaii: Lilo and Stitch
I can’t think of many candidates for this one.  There’s Magnum, PI and the story of the Brady Bunch and the taboo idol.  But for me, Hawaii stories begin and end with Lilo and Stitch.  That film also contributed a motto frequently heard around these parts: “Ohana means family and family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.”

Three favorites: Twilight Zone episodes

I have two all-time favorite TV shows and one of them is The Twilight Zone.  Every week, Rod Serling and his writers presented us with a new tale of the fantastic and/or horrific, but the common theme among them all was that they all had something to say about the human condition.  This wonderful series was one of the first science fiction properties to elevate the genre above simple escapism.  Serling, Charles Beaumont, and Richard Matheson are three of my favorite writers thanks to their work on this show.  (By complete coincidence, it turns out each of them wrote exactly one episode in the following top three list.)

A member of my writing group recently shared with us the first paragraph of the prologue for her current project and it sounded to me like something Rod Serling would have said to introduce that week’s tale.  This got me to thinking of my all-time favorite Twilight Zone episodes.

“The Invaders”
A classic with no dialogue at all until the very end, which is, of course, part of the kicker.  Anytime I ride The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disneyland, I always look at the statue of the invader in the hotel lobby scene and declare, “It’s a race of giants!

“The Howling Man”
Are the monks inside an isolated European castle insane, or do they really hold the devil himself captive within their walls?

“Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”
This one has often had a comedic feel to me, especially with its off-the-wall ending.  But before that, it is a classic mystery with a SF twist.  You know you’re in for a treat as soon as the bus driver counts the seven patrons in the diner and declares that there were only six passengers on the bus.

Honorable mentions: “Time Enough at Last,” “It’s a Good Life,” “To Serve Man,” and “Nothing in the Dark.”

Are you a Twilight Zone fan?  Have your own favorites, or agree or disagree with mine?  Let me know in the comments.

Three favorites: robots

This is the first in what I plan to make a Tuesday ritual: three favorites.  Every Tuesday I’ll list my three favorite somethings and then give you the chance to chime in with your own.  Today’s topic: my three favorite robots!

Optimus Prime
Prime could appear on a lot of favorite lists of mine.  He’s one of my all-time favorite fictional characters of any type, alignment, or genre.  My favorite element of Prime’s character is his determination.  One might say, “And you never give in when your back’s to the wall.  Gonna fight to the end and you’re takin’ it all.”  This is why Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was permanently erased from my memory.  When Prime is triple teamed by three of the most powerful Decepticons, he doesn’t lose.  He comes out battered and nearly broken, but victorious… because he is Prime!  (Michael Bay mostly atoned for this in Transformers: Dark of the Moon when Prime single-handedly takes out 11 Decepticons, including Shockwave, in about one minute.)

Mega Man
Not only can he defeat any Robot Master Dr. Wily throws at him, he can add insult to their injury by using their own weapons against them.  And he dishes out all of his destruction while looking like an innocent ten year old boy.

Rudy Roughnight
It’s something of a spoiler to even put Rudy on this list because the moment in Wild ARMs in which Rudy is revealed to be a Holmcross is the most dramatic scene in the game (and would quite possibly be on my “Three favorites: scenes” list).  Rudy is a silent, lonely, ARMs-wielding wanderer rejected by the people of Filgaia but who saves the world anyway.  File under: hero.

Honorable mentions: WALL*E, Modular Man from Wild Cards, Wren from Phantasy Star, Robot from Lost in Space.

Agree?  Disagree?  Have your own list?  Tell me about it in the comments.