It’s the holiday season, so this year it’s
time to give the people what they want! By popular demand, this week, we’re looking
at the history of the sonic-booming Decepticon who isn’t convinced he’s on the right
side: Thundercracker! The toy that would become Thundercracker was
originally released in the Japanese toyline “Diaclone” in
1983, under the name “Jet Robo.” It transformed into an F-15 Eagle jet fighter,
and was imported by Hasbro to become part of the first year of the “Transformers”
toyline in 1984, in which it was also released in two other colour schemes, as Thundercracker’s
fellow Decepticon jets, Skywarp and Starscream. Thundercracker was one of the very earliest
Transformers characters for whom a profile was written, as part of
the original treatment for the franchise assembled by Marvel Comics writers Jim Shooter
and Denny O’Neil. He was characterised as being contemptuous
of any creature that couldn’t fly, but also, as a Decepticon who wasn’t fully convinced
of the rightness of their cause, who only stuck with them out of a desperate
need for a sense of purpose in life. Now, that said, Shooter and O’Neil initially
ascribed this personality to Starscream; during later revisions, writer Bob Budiansky
reattributed it to Thundercracker, and gave him the special power to generate
sonic booms at will, which he used to sow terror among his victims. Unfortunately, the intriguing idea of
a doubting Decepticon wasn’t explored in any classic Transformers media. Much like his flying partner Skywarp, Thundercracker
just wasn’t a very notable character back in the 80’s; both the Marvel comic and the animated series treated him as little more than a generic Decepticon goon, just sort of… THERE, always around, but
rarely doing anything significant. He never even once used his sonic booms in
battle in the whole cartoon! The closest anything came to exploring his
wavering loyalties was when he got into a short-lived argument with Starscream in
the episode “Fire on the Mountain,” and contemplated letting the Autobot Skyfire
wreck Megatron’s newest weapon so that he could pin the blame on his fellow
Decepticon. After two years in this limited role, Thundercracker’s
toy was discontinued in 1986, which led him to being killed off in both the comic,
in which he was scrapped by Omega Supreme, and in “The Transformers: The Movie,”
in which he was injured in battle, jettisoned into space, and had his remains recreated by the monster
planet Unicron into the fearsome tracker, Scourge. He would later return to life in the comic,
but it was a brief resurrection, as he was quickly killed once more
by a cosmically-powered Starscream. One further toy of Thundercracker was released
in the original toyline: a non-transforming Action Master figure,
which came with a jet that converted into a suit of armour
Thundercracker could wear. Available only in Europe and Australasia in 1991, the figure was unsurprisingly a recolour of
the Action Master Starscream figure, but infamously, rather than Thundercracker’s
traditional blue, it was for some reason decked out in a gaudy mixture
of pink, purple, and green! Thundercracker would be even more unrecognizable
when he was next seen in 1997’s “Machine Wars” toys, which
rendered him as a small green Dassault Rafale jet. The first new incarnation of Thundercracker was also the first to revive the original’s
classic blue colour scheme; introduced in “Transformers: Armada” in
2003, this new Thundercracker was a recolour of the “Armada” Starscream toy, and was
characterised as an overlooked member of the Decepticons who often took dangerous risks
in his efforts to prove himself to Megatron. In the Japanese market, however, this toy
was reimagined not as Thundercracker, but as a powered-up version of Starscream
himself. Since the “Armada” cartoon was produced in Japan,
this was how the toy was incorporated into its story, leading to this line of dialogue being inserted
into the English version of the show after Starscream got his new colours
to reconcile the two ideas! STARSCREAM:
“I look like… Thundercracker!” “Armada” Thundercracker got a makeover
for the 2005 sequel series, “Transformers: Cybertron,” acquiring his own unique design distinct from
that series’ Starscream, transforming into a Sukhoi Su-37 jet fighter. In this form, he appeared in “Cybertron”
cartoon; still very much a goon, but a memorably enthusiastic goofy one,
always up for a fight, and with a fondness for over-the-top,
overlong attack name call-outs. JETFIRE:
“All that for a punch?” But this eagerness didn’t translate into
a lot of success; Thundercracker spent much of the show getting
his butt soundly kicked, and in the series finale, he decided to give up evil and join the Autobots
just so he could be on the winning team, until his fellow Decepticons dragged him back
to their side at the last minute! With his original design and regular presence
in the cartoon, the “Cybertron” character was very much the exception among Thundercrackers
in the 21st century. In the years that have followed his release, there have been a great many more Thundercracker toys, and virtually all of them have been recolored
Starscream toys, just like the original was. It’s a practise that’s resulted in the creation of
many different incarnations of Thundercracker in the various different Transformers universes, but while their personalities have all been pretty different, like the original, none of them have ever
been the subject of much focus in media. For instance, the Thundercracker of the live-action
movie universe was a chaotic Decepticon who thrived on the fear he instilled in his
victims, of whom several toys were released, but his appearances were limited to tie-in
video games and comic books, in which he was groomed by Starscream to be
his second-in-command, and developed a rivalry with the Autobot Arcee. “Transformers: Animated” chose to emphasise
the fact that Thundercracker was just a recolour by depicting him, Skywarp, and the other characters
who have shared their design over the years as literal clones of Starscream. Each clone
represented an aspect of Starscream’s personality; Thundercracker was a self-aggrandizing egomaniac,
with only a brief role in the series that ended when he and Skywarp were hurled
through a portal into deep space. A full-size toy of “Animated” Thundercracker
was designed, but was never released, with only a small-scale “Activator” figure
of him being sold at retail. The Thundercracker of the “Aligned” continuity, meanwhile, had toys made in his image in both the “Transformers:
Prime” and “Generations” lines, but his only significant media appearance was in a single level of the “War for Cybertron” video game, which characterised him as
a calm, intellectual scientist. So, yeah, while Thundercracker has maintained
a reputation as a significant legacy character with a bigger and more regular presence in the many iterations of the Transformers franchise than most… outside of the atypical “Cybertron” Thundercracker,
it’s not really because he’s ever DONE much, with his status being more a product of the
fact that he originated in the brand’s first year, he’s an easy recolour to make, and he’s
part of a classic set of three that fans want to see completed each time
a new toy of one of them gets released. But there has been one piece of media that
has put the spotlight on Thundercracker and explored the original idea of the Decepticon
who didn’t fully believe in what his side was fighting for – and
that’s IDW Publishing’s comic books. Thundercracker was one of the first Transformers
to appear in IDW’s comics when they launched in 2005, but it was in the 2008 series “All Hail Megatron”
that the atrocities the Decepticons committed during their full-scale invasion of Earth
led the doubting Thundercracker to conclude they had lost their way. Turning against his comrades, he saved the Autobots from a nuclear bomb strike Megatron had orchestrated. Injured by Skywarp in retaliation for his
betrayal, he proceeded to go into hiding on Earth, spending his time watching human television
broadcasts, fascinated by the adaptability of the human species, unlike Transformers, who had been locked in unchanging war for millions of years. In the years that followed, he became an ally
of the Earth Defence Command, who granted him sanctuary and companionship
in the form of a dog named Buster, and his love of television evolved into a
desire to become a screenwriter himself. He periodically found himself having to emerge
from his cozy life to help the Autobots defend his new adopted homeworld against dangers
posed by the Decepticons and other alien forces, reluctantly at first, but with growing resolve
each time there was a new threat to face, and he gradually formed a friendship with
EDC captain Marissa Faireborn, piercing her tough exterior with his enthusiastic,
if slightly goofy and wide-eyed, approach to his new life. Thundercracker would ultimately get the chance
to realise his dream, first making a movie about the life of Starscream,
then another about the G.I. Joe Chuckles, and the comics came to an end in 2018 with
Thundercracker waiting to hear if he’d won the award for Best Screenplay! Other recent appearances by Thundercracker
have included cameos by multiple robots wearing his colours in the “Bumblebee” movie; a recurring supporting role in the
“Transformers: Cyberverse” cartoon as one of the Decepticon jets
under the command of Slipstream; and a new figure in the “War for Cybertron:
Siege” toyline based on his Cybertronian mode
from the original cartoon. If this toy will lead to appearances by Thundercracker
in IDW’s new rebooted comics, or the upcoming “War for Cybertron” Netflix
animated series, we don’t yet know, but hopefully writers will continue to see
the potential in ol’ T.C.’s unique personality, and not let him fall back into the background!