All fictional universes eventually build their own mythology, and Transformers is no exception. The initial explanation for the origin of the Transformers species was “naturally occurring gears, levers and pulleys” on the surface of the mechanical planet Cybertron, spontaneously coming together. While sounding silly, it actually was a quite scientific approach, sort of a mechanical analog to abiogenesis only with (animated?) mechanical/electronic components, rather than organic molecules.
There, for real!
In time, however, there would be elements added to the origin story that had more of a religious feel to them. It starts with Unicron in Transformers: The Movie. He wants to destroy Cybertron, but in order to do this he must first destroy the Creation Matrix, or Matrix of Leadership, the mysterious artifact passed down between Autobot leaders. We know this, but never quite got an explanation for why he feared the Matrix, or why he wanted to destroy Cybertron, other than it was another planet in his part, much like the other ones he destroyed.
Must… Eat… Cybertron…
It would be legendary comic book writer Simon Furman, at the time responsible for the comparatively marginal UK run of the Transformers comic book, who eventually filled in the gaps. In his mini-series “The Legacy of Unicron”, the backstory of Unicron and ultimately the Transformers as well is revealed, by the planet-eater himself. We learn that Unicron once was a god of darkness, not really possessing physical form, who devoured everything in his path in his conquest to extinguish all life in the Universe. However, Primus, a god of light (suspiciously similar to Rodimus) stepped in his path and started fighting him. As Unicron started to get the upper hand against Primus, the latter made one last desperate move and locked himself and Unicron into two great spherical masses, where both lay dormant for eons. Unicron eventually woke up and managed to break out of his rocky prison, having taken the shape of a large, mechanical planet during his hibernation. What was more, he was able to transform into a great, devil-like humanoid form. In fact, he became the first Transformer!
Above: Primus and Unicron in their astral forms. Primus design looks familiar, as does Unicron´s shield…
Primus, on the other hand, took on a different path. He too transformed into a mechanical planet over time, but remained dormant. Instead, he gave life to a whole new race for him to be inhabited by, a people that would once become able to face up against Unicron and stop his devouring of the Universe. Thus, the Transformers were born! Further, he created the Matrix of Leadership as a conduit for his life force, and had it passed down through a lineage of Primes. While it could be used for giving life to new Transformers (established in earlier fiction), it would also prove a powerful protection against Unicron, since it was a powerful enough catalyst of Primus power to destroy the former. Hence, Unicron and his obsession with the Matrix, as well as Cybertron itself got its explanation, while Transformers as a whole received a fuller and more interesting backstory.
Above: The Matrix
What is quite remarkable about this story is the fact that Furman was allowed to take his storytelling in this direction, basically creating the whole backstory for the franchise on a few pages in a comic which was not even published in the US. As Furman took over the reins from US writer Bob Budiansky, the concept of Primus eventually became established there as well, if during a time when the franchise´s popularity was fading. Since the 80s, various elements have been added to the mythos:
Spark: Each Transformer contains a spark, a little sphere of energy which is basically their life force, or soul if you will and in turn a little piece of Primus´s life force.
The Allspark: This could be said to be the equivalent to the Hindu concept of Brahman, basically a “world soul”, Primus´s collected life force to which Transformers return in their afterlife. The Creation Matrix is however a conduit for channeling this force to some degree.
Vector Sigma: This large, powerful computer in the core of planet Cybertron (aka Primus´s body) is the mainframe through which his power also can be accessed.
Energon: Although established at an early stage as being the basic energy source on which Transformers subsist, it has later been explained as being an emanation of Primus himself, and the basic building material of Transformers´ sparks and bodies. The great Cybertronian War greatly depleted the planet´s energon resources, the partial reason for Optimus Prime and crew to leave their home planet behind. Energon is typically stored in Energon cubes.
Above: Energon cubes, as seen in the cartoon
Dark Energon: This is the emanation of Unicron himself, and while bestowing great power to its consumers, it also taints their sparks with his corrupting influence and makes them aggressive and addictive for more.
The Thirteen: These were the first Transformers created by Primus, specifically for fighting Unicron. All of them had a special role, the one of Optimus Prime was to be the mediator between the other Primes. He would later perish but be reincarnated as the young data clerk Orion Pax, under the tutelage of the sage Alpha Trion, archivist and keeper of the Coventant of Primus, a mysterious book thought to be prophetic in its descriptions of the future to come. Following the onset of the Great War, Orion Pax would be appointed the new carrier of the Matrix of Leadership and then took on his original name, Optimus Prime. Alpha Trion, meanwhile, has been one of the original Thirteen all along, one of the oldest Transformers still alive. Yet another of the Thirteen was Megatronus, who in his hunger for power would fail Primus cause and defect from the Thirteen, becoming the Fallen (as seen in Bay´s second movie). Megatron, at the time without a proper name, took his name from Megatronus, being inspired by what he thought was a brave Transformer standing up against oppression of free will. In a similar way, he too would however become corrupted by hunger for power, and commit horrible crimes in the name of Justice…
Above: Orion Pax (soon-to-be-Optimus Prime) and Alpha Trion, as seen in the oiriginal cartoon
It should be noted that here is a second origin story for the Transformers, the one presented in the original cartoon. Here, the Transformers were created as a slave race for the Quintessons, the evil mechanical race first seen in Transformers: the Movie. This story can however be explained as a period in Cybertronian history where Transformers were being enslaved by Quintessons, and as such, being somewhat reconcilable with Simon Furmans story about Primus, which today stands as the ultimate one.
At this point, I think I have provided most of the back story needed for explaining the first of many continuities of the Transformers franchise. I will however continue to revisit a few toys from the era before my introduction is complete.