Sometimes a conversation with a friend about nothing in particular can prove the catalyst for something cathartic. Such was the case when I was talking with Andrew Farmer prior to recording an episode of our weekly series Hey Kids, Comics! about a month ago. Perhaps due in no small part to the impending release of Disney’s latest bid to milk an inorganic cash cow, Planes, the personally reviled animated feature Cars insinuated itself into the conversation.
Reviled may be too harsh a word to apply to a film I have never seen and have little inclination to ever see should providence insure I must never be forced into such an unexpected screening. More accurately I find no appeal in the concept beyond an opportunity to extrapolate on the logic-threatening nature of a world peopled by autonomous automobiles. I have certainly delighted in my exaggerated questioning of the physiology and life cycle of such entities, not to mention the patently impossible nature of the mundane aspects of their day to day lives such as construction and governance. But such explorations into the minutia of what is wrong with the core concept behind Cars is not the purpose of this article. In fact my intention is not to further vilify the fuel-injected denizens of Radiator Springs, but rather to deify them.
What came about in this pre-show conversation was the inspiration for two related features for your enjoyment here at The JediCole Universe that share a common thread. While questioning the nature of the airborne in a realm of largely earthbound creatures as suggested by the latest incarnation of the Cars franchise, I began to see a previously unrealized connection between those animated autos and the Autobots. Could Mater have been a rejected product of Cybertron? Is it possible that the Transformers represent the pinnacle of evolution for the cars, trucks, boats, and aircraft of the realm portrayed in CG animated form on the silver screen? Was there a connection between these two portrayals of anthropomorphic vehicles? This certainly bore further investigation.
Initially my thoughts took me to an inevitable place as we were warming up for a discussion of comic books, the crossover! What has become more a part of the comic publisher’s bag of tricks than the mash up of one property versus another? Granted, this chestnut existed on screen long before it became a staple of printed serial fiction (think Frankenstein Meets Dracula; c. 1957) and persists to this day, but comics have held fast to this technique as well. From the 1976 treasury-sized Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man to the trend-launching Aliens vs. Predator, the cross-property crossover has become almost commonplace. Suddenly the thought of a Cars vs. Transformers mini-series seemed at least a possibility. 1994 saw the highly improbably Archie Meets the Punisher after all! But such a cooperative effort between the two hit properties is unlikely given that, to my thinking, Lightning McQueen and company would perceive the abilities of the Transformers as something akin to a human being watching another person turn himself inside out and utilize his kidneys as boxing gloves or something equally disconcerting. Thus was this week’s JCU Sunday Funnies inspired.
Absent such a crossover event my Ever-Ticking Brain was left to further struggle with the nature of Cars and the tantalizing potential of tying their universe to that of the Decepticons and Autobots. Oddly enough I had never been as bothered by the Transformers’ bizarre Energon-centric culture or even that alien automatons should by miraculous coincidence happen to passably resemble the creations of Earthly engineers and designers. Somehow this always made a perverse kind of sense in the way that McQueen and friends failed to do in any conceivable fashion. Perhaps this was a product of the Transformers being presented as robots (albeit in disguise) rather than some sort of established civilization with no adequately explored origins. And then I found the reconciliation that had long eluded me. I found a way to make sense of Cars(and even Planes) in a way that meshed perfectly with the self-aware car/boat/airplane/tank/triceratops-shaped androids of Cybertron. A discovery that would elevate Lightning, Sally, Mater, and even Ramon to godhood.
Simply put, Cars is the Bullfinches Mythology of the Transformers universe. The plots of the three feature films and all other video productions and books produced for this franchise are simply the recounting of the ancient myths and legends of Cybertron. In the classical civilization of the Transformers, early robots worshiped a pantheon of god-like transportation methods from the young demigod Lightning McQueen to the Titan known as Finn McMissle, aspects of their world were embodied by their deities. While this once thriving religion is now reduced to folklore, Autobot and Decepticon alike have imprinted on their memory banks the adventures and machinations of the gods and heroes of a bygone era. The archaic tales are not only preserved but are also part of the very fabric of Cybertronian society to this day. The constellations Ripslinger, Sarge, Mater, and Crabby the Boat are familiar to even Dinobots. The etymology of the word “shiftwell” is traced to the godess Holly Shiftwell of Transformer myth. Some Decepticons have even been known to have images of such legendary figures as Chick Hicks painted on their fuselage before going into battle. These cited examples are just a few of many that illustrate the influence of the Classics on contemporary Transformer culture.
So it is with no shortage of amazement I find myself at last discovering a way to reconcile all of my previous doubts concerning the viability of the world in which Cars takes place. By couching their universe in the antiquated past of that of The Transformers I have reconciled one of the most troubling pop culture mysteries that have plagued me in years past. As the legends of Cybertron I find comfort and reconciliation in the existence of Lightning McQueen and his ilk. Furthermore I can lend a further depth to a society of robots that took their ongoing struggle to the very doorstep of mankind, bringing with them a piece of their ancestry. So it was that these myths, altered and made more approachable to humans, would give Walt Disney Productions a surefire hit with kids and adults. A hit that I can accept more readily than I ever imagined possible.
For the further edification of the reader The JediCole Universe is proud to offer an abridged glossary of the Cybertronian pantheon as translated from Sproketus’ The Motorworks and Days.
Lightning McQueen – Demigod. A common Car elevated to the pantheon due to his heroics and embodiment of speed and perseverance. God of fuel-injection credited with bringing six cylinders to the world. Considered father of the Nascardian gods.
Classical Analogue: Zeus, Prometheus, and Heracles
Sally Carrera – Goddess of beauty and justice. Wife to Lightning McQueen after his ascension to the throne of Nascardia.
Classical Analogue: Hera and Aphrodite
Mater – God of maintenance. Mater was the ever-present aide to the higher pantheon. Part healer, part servant, part engineer.
Classical Analogue: Hephaestus
Sarge – God of war. The gruff and officious patron of both primeval Autobot and Decepticon factions.
Classical Analogue: Ares
Holly Shiftwell – Goddess of weaponry. Credited in myth with teaching Transformers to create missiles, lasers, and rocket-propelled fists.
Classical Analogue: Diana
Leadbottom – God of agriculture. The cropdusting plane brought plant life to prehistoric Cybertron for the benefit of earthmoving and land-clearing ancient Autobots.
Classical Analogue: Ceres
Ramon – God of style. In the ancient world it was believed that Ramon transformed Transformers from bleak, primer-gray entities to the stylish multi-colored robots seen to this day.
Classical Analogue: Apollo
Ripslinger – God of the Overworld. In the traditions of the ancients, upon their demise Transformers would “roll out” of the physical world and their core programming would download to the Overworld, an afterlife realm for robots. While often depicted as vile in the legends, Ripslinger was the caretaker of the realm of the deceased and determined which level of the parking garage like afterlife Cybertronians would occupy for eternity.
Classical Analogue: Hades
Cole "JediCole" Houston is a freelance Texas-based writer and recovering Cars hater who feels that the autocentric franchise is the bone claws of Disney/Pixar. Through intense study of Cybertronic folklore he has come to the realization that it could be worse, Disney could green light Percy Jackson and the Lightning McQueen Thief, an ill-advised meshing of the concepts expressed above and Grand Theft Auto.