An Author's Notebook

In which the author reflects on two impactful quotes from childhood films.

An Author’s Notebook

Welcome, Dear Reader, to An Author’s Notebook, where I share various notes from my week in reading and writing. Today I take a cursory journey down the well of memory.

Our subject arises out of two quotes from Hasbro movies:

“One shall stand. One shall fall.” - Optimus Prime.
“I was once a man.” - Cobra Commander.

Both of these lines are the most poignant and memorable of their respective films. In a sense, their meaning transcends the larger works that they are located in because they are richer in depth of meaning than their surroundings.

Both of them are important to the main plot, but only in supporting roles. Optimus Prime’s declaration sums up his character: the noblest, wisest and most courageous of all the Transformers has set himself at last to face his antithesis and nemesis, Megatron, in a final decisive battle. He is the great leader the Autobots will never be able to replace. ("Megatron must be matter the cost," is another close contender for Prime's best quote of the film.)

Yet, while Prime’s words are powerful, they do not prove prophetic. Neither he nor Megatron stand at the end of their duel – they both fall. (Megatron just needs a little help from his lieutenant Starscream to fall the rest of the way – though he will return later, in a manner of speaking.)

This is how it goes down: Prime confronts Megatron. They fight. And it gets real. Damage is done to both combatants like nothing we fans have seen before. But Prime gains the upper hand despite a worrisome wound. Megatron, now turns from his position of weakness and – glimpsing a laster pistol nearby – says, "Grant me mercy, I beg of you!"

Prime's classic reply comes:

"You, who are without mercy, now plead for it? I thought you were made of sterner stuff."

It is here, as Megatron reaches for his hidden weapon, that Hot Rod (our young, reckless Autobot would-be hero) leaps in to intervene. Which is of course exactly what he shouldn't have done. Megatron takes him hostage and using the youth as a shield, blasts Optimus, shouting, "Fall! Fall!"

Prime, broken and mortally wounded, still refuses to yield – such is the greatness of his resolve. And as Megatron stands over him gloating, Optimus delivers a crushing double-handed blow that sends our villain falling to his ruin.

Still, for all the strength of its opening beats – which culminate in this showdown – the film ultimately fails in its goal: Passing the torch to the next generation. (And the music...the music could have been better.)

No one wants Hot Rod to replace Optimus as the leader of the Autobots. And one film isn’t going to convince anyone of his worthiness. The Transformer’s story was always leading to the fateful battle between Optimus and Megatron, and having accomplished that, there really isn't much reason for more movie. Though I'll watch it, if you insist.

Let us turn to our second quote.

“I was once a man,” carries the most poignant weight of all the lines in G.I. Joe: The Movie.

The long-failing, inept, and bungling Cobra Commander’s failures have finally caught up with him. Defeated by the Joes – again – he leads the forces of Cobra to a strange, secret place from his past.

Here he reveals the truth of his origins: Cobra-La, an ancient city of a biotechnically advanced race, is the birthplace of our terrorist warlord. And he was once a proud nobleman/scientist that his people sent forth for the great work of conquering the planet.

Now having returned home a failure, he is judged and found wanting. The punishment he receives is to be slowly transformed into a snake, and thus is born his refrain: “I was once a man.”

Like Gregor Samsa of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, we witness the loss of humanity that takes away everything from the Commander: Intelligence, social standing, dignity, agency – he becomes a nonbeing, a mockery of his former self.

Even a wicked man is still a man, but not Cobra Commander.

“I was once a man,” eventually gives way to “Hisssss.” (An echo – likely accidental– of the fate of the fallen angels at the end of Book X of Milton’s Paradise Lost.)

Shortly before the last of his humanity is snuffed out, Cobra Commander has one last line that sums up his loss. It’s hard to make out because of the distortions of his voice, but still, there is power in it:

“Men may rule, but serpents never!”

In the end, the Commander plays a critical role in his serpent form before disappearing off stage, but – apart from what might have been if they had not backtracked the death of Duke – the rest of the film is largely forgettable. (As is evidenced by the fact that though I have watched the movie dozens of time, it is largely a formless blur in my memory.)

Both of these memorable lines are consolations within works that are dramatic but largely frivolous, their value is greater than the setting they are found in. Both lines are in an elevated register that sets them apart from their fellows in the frame of the dialogue.

For two franchises built upon cyclical conflict that never resolves or costs the warring parties anything meaningful, these lines mark moments of definitive change. Specifically loss. And their impact upon me has endured for more than thirty years.

It is a characteristic of storytelling that though the story as a whole may be pedestrian, a gem or two may be found within the dross.

There are also a few poignant episodes from both G.J. Joe and Transformers that have stuck with me, which I will only make passing note of here before closing:

There’s No Place Like Springfield (Part 1 and 2) is the harrowing psychological journey of Shipwreck.

The Secret of Omega Supreme tells the tragedy of the Constructicons – victims of Megatron's reprogramming.

And here’s a restored version of the Death of Duke, if you’re interested.

Ah, Dear Reader, here we will close the notebook for now. I've been picking up steam of late with both reading and writing, so I look forward to sharing more and more often.

Best regards,


Want more words, Traveller? Come visit my website at, or take the direct route to the blog.

Want to throw me some coin to support me financially? I have a Busker's Hat to help buy coffee and used books.

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