It’s true. Despite having amply proven their ability to feed you your own exhaust port, both were reduced to the role of secretary at one point early in their existence. Why? They were victims of their times. Pure and simple. Or is it? Wonder Woman’s stint as a secretary started in 1942, back when sexism was still all the rage (inducing a whole lot of pent up rage, I’m sure.)
However, Arcee debuted in 1986 in The Transformers: The Movie, where she performed plenty of heavy lifting and weapons firing. In the following season of the T.V., she then did her share of blasting Decepticons, and even got thrown in jail after being turned into a squishey:
Let’s just skip past the parts about Daniel literally becoming her head and head (haha!) into the Japanese series: Headmasters. Now, ironically, in the Japanese continuity, the only part so far that did not happen is Arcee becoming a Headmaster. So, in Headmasters, Arcee is not a Headmaster. Got that?
Chronologically the Japanese comic book “Story of Super Robot Lifeforms: The Transformers” (Japan!) is where things started going downhill for our brave heroine.
However, it is the Headmasters cartoon series itself that reduces Arcee completely to an overly emotional, crying, memo-toting secretary.
Moving on from there, the Marvel UK comics, with unprecedented amounts of awkward, attempted to actually explain her gender in the issue titled – ready for this? – “Prime’s Rib”. Ouch. She was created to deal with angry Earth feminists who had accused the Autobots of being sexist – despite their obvious lack of gender. However, the Feminists did not take kindly to this rather patronizing attempt to placate them. Then Arcee blew up a bunch of Decepticons. At that point no one was happy, except maybe Hot Rod. Jazz creepily attempts to explain,
Throughout all of this, Arcee remained toy-less. Later, we learned this was a good thing, as a hand-sculpted prototype was created for Arcee and let’s just say, it ain’t pretty, click at your own risk. Then came the Beast Wars and Beast Machines, and as a 2001 Botcon Exclusive, Arcee got her first actual transforming toy. As a repaint of the Transmetal 2 Blackarachnia, Arcee was now a techno-organic, martial artist spider with a professed ability to foresee deaths before they happened. So… yeah, not quite the Arcee we remembered.
Moving to the modern day, the IDW comic book series hasn’t been too kind to Arcee’s mental state, though they have amped up her attitude quite a bit. Their take on her gender? The mad scientist Jhiaxus introduced gender, just to see what would happen. So, against her will, Arcee became the first Transgender Transformer. This, quite naturally, drove her right ’round the bend.
Overtly sexualized and/or overly brutalized in almost every modern incarnation, Arcee continues to be a… touchy (do not click that link, trust me) subject amongst Transfans. It’s somewhat sad that the comic book writers today only seem to know two ways to treat a female character, neither healthy.
On a much more positive note: though she’s not the first female Transformer ever introduced, the six robots collectively – and imaginatively, I might add – known as the “Female Autobots” preceded Arcee by a year — she is the most popular of the Generation 1 female transformers and the most remembered. Which is how we find ourselves at one of the greatest Transformers toy homages of all time, courtesy of Transformers: Animated.
Making her obviously feminine without her appearing sexualized must have been a bit of a design challenge but like all of Animated, the toy is spot-on to the character model of the show. Packaging all that with an alt-mode that so closely resembles an updated version of the original Arcee’s car mode, just brilliant.
Also like much of the animated line, she has great light-piping for her eyes. A Toys R Us exclusive that came out after the toyline ended, Arcee is one of the best figures from the line, only being surpassed by another Toy R Us exclusive, Hot Rod (Rodimus Minor) and the Japan-only Blackout. Though, she did keep her swords from her crazy phase, so I wouldn’t suggest saying that to her face.