The fourth and final season of Cyberverse has debuted and you can read my review of the first episode/movie here. Several new characters make their debut in this episode in the form of the Mercenary faction. Fans who watched War for Cybertron: Earthrise will be familiar with the faction, but this is the Cyberverse version. While it takes inspiration from the War for Cybertron version (including adopting its faction symbol) the characters are all new to the Cyberverse cartoon. So who are these guys and how do they call back to previous Transformers stories? Here's a rundown:
If the name "Afterburner" rings a bell, you are most likely thinking of the G1 Autobot Technobot who could combine with his fellow Technobots to form Computron. However this Afterburner is actually a reference to a different character. In the Generation 2 toy line a series of jets known as the "Skyscorchers" were released in 1993. One of these was a Decepticon who transformed into a Lockheed F-104G Starfighter jet. The G2 version was considered clever and very independent minded, but the Cyberverse version seems more like a henchman.
Bug Bite has his origins in the toy line that competed with Transformers in the 80's: GoBots. The original Bug Bite transformed into a Volkswagon Beetle, similar to G1 Bumblebee. In 2004, Takara Tomy released a pack of G1 Mini-Bot redecos as GoBots characters. One of these was Bug Bite, a redeco of the Bumblebee sculpt. Unlike his GoBots counterpart who was yellow, this one was mostly white in color. Three years later, Bug Bite would return as part of the Botcon 2007 exclusive boxed set. More recently he was released as part of the Generations Selects line. The character's origins vary from release to release. In some cases it is suggested he is from another universe (presumably the GoBots universe) while in others he is simply a mercenary. Cyberverse leans into that explanation with him being a Mercenary working under Soundblaster.
Unlike some of the other Mercenaries, this one has a much more recent pedigree. Doublecrosser was released in Earthrise as a Battle Master class figure who transformed into a ramp. This was intended to coincide with the gimmick of Micromaster bases released in that series. In Cyberverse the character never transforms and is a recolor of the Rack n' Ruin model. That means he has two heads, similar to Doublecrosser and the two even share a lot of the same colors. He has some of the more hilarious scenes in the movie and is certainly an unexpected addition to the Mercenary faction.
The original G1 Nightbird was actually a human built robot in the form of a ninja warrior who did not transform (but caused quite a bit of trouble). Later incarnations of the character would actually be actual transforming figures such as the Masterpiece and a Generations Selects figure. While she has appeared in comic stories (and even the Earth Wars game) over the years, her appearance as one of Soundblaster's warriors is the first time a version of the character has appeared in animation since G1. Similar to her G1 counterpart, the Cyberverse Nightbird has a preference for melee weapons and is a powerful hand to hand combatant. Unlike her G1 predecessor this version is able to talk.
In 1987 a significant split in continuities occurred between the G1 cartoon in Japan versus outside Japan. In Japan there was an animated Headmaster series while outside Japan the series we knew as G1 was wrapped up with the three part "Rebirth" mini-series. Events differed significantly between the two, and one of those events was Soundwave's fate. In the series, the Autobot Communicator Blaster and Decepticon Soundwave had one final, devastating battle that left them both dead. However, thanks to the efforts of their respective cassette forces they came back to life with new colors. In Soundwave's case, he returned as Soundblaster. Mystique built up around this character because for many years the only way to get the G1 figure was to import it at fairly expensive prices. Years later a reissue would make getting a version of him much easier.
As the years went along, the Soundblaster character/persona was used in different ways across different continuities. In the Dreamwave comics he was a clone of Soundwave. The same occurred in the recent IDW Publishing comic books. More recently in the War for Cybertron series he was portrayed as a separate character from Soundwave who resented being reminded that he looked like the famous Decepticon. He was also the leader of the Mercenary faction and ruled with a proverbial iron fist.
The Cyberverse version of Soundblaster bears the most resemblance to his War for Cybertron counterpart. The resemblance is not just physical. Like the War for Cybertron version he commands the Mercenaries and is merciless. Of course, the writers knew they could not ignore his resemblance to Soundwave, so to separate the characters they wrote him with a very different voice than Soundwave and we get to see a flashback showing the source of their rivalry.
One of the most surprising reveals in the Cyberverse season 4 trailer was Trypticon bearing a Mercenary faction logo! Trypticon goes all the way back to the G1 era when he was introduced as the counter point to the Autobot City Metroplex. He transformed from a giant Godzilla-esque creature to a battle station and city. His size kind of ranged depending on whether you were looking at the comic books or cartoon (and even within the cartoon his size was...flexible). In the comic books he spoke like a regular Transformers character, but in the cartoon he was portrayed as a not-so-bright brute.
Over the years, Trypticon would pop up again here and there in fiction. In one continuity his alt-mode was the Decepticon ship Nemesis. In the Animated and Robots in Disguise (2015) continuities there was a "Trypticon Prison". In Cyberverse the character is actually a figure of authority, ruling through fear over crews that help loot planets before he destroys them. This portrayal seems to lean into his Godzilla-inspired origins. This is a very different portrayal for the character and I really appreciated its uniqueness.
With Season Four being the end of the Cyberverse season this will likely be the last we see of this iteration of the Mercenary Faction for now, but it is cool to see the "spirit" of the group appearing in two different incarnations of Transformers one year apart!