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Like many celebrities, Soundwave's origins are humble. Japanese toy company Takara had a line of robots called Diaclone, picked up and reimagined by Hasbro in the mid-80's. Capitalists to the bone, Hasbro teamed with Marvel Comics to launch a comic book series around the toy line, to help muster sales.
The Robots in Disguise proved stunningly popular, and soon a Saturday morning cartoon dropped, transforming the humble toy line into a nationwide sensation. The rest is history... And 30+ years, several comic publishers, a million toy lines, numerous animated takes, and a wretched string of Michael Bay flicks later, the gang's still alive and kickin'.
As you know from your Generation 1 history, the ancient alien bots were divided into two main sides--Autobots and Decepticons, and of these, fans had several options among the Autobots to root for. But dark side dreamers got more limited options offered--Megatron, Starscream (a punk!), Shockwave (a jerk!), and Soundwave. Ah yes, Soundwave, the diamond mixed in with the coal.
Holy Trinity of Malevolent Alien Robot Scum
Ol' bullet-head Megatron's sort of an Alpha male-type, and very single-minded in purpose. Destroy the Autobots, destroy the Autobots. Kill Optimus Prime. Every episode is basically the same intentions rehashed. Starscream's character arc is even less reaching. Try to replace the boss, that was his raison d'etre. Take over the top position of the Decepticons, then...destroy the Autobots and kill Optimus Prime.
Soundwave is a little more mysterious, more subtle. He isn't after fame and glory. He is a loyal follower, a faithful foot soldier with less ambitious metal bones in his body, yet more tricks up his sleeve.
Such as--ejecting other Decepticons out of your freakin' chest, for example!!
Portrait of a Gangster
Soundwave's crew of micro-cassette-disguised minions seemed to grow as the show went on, and included Ravage, Laserbeak, Buzzsaw, Ratbat, Rumble, Frenzy, Slugfest, and Overkill. As a comm officer, Sounwave tends to serve in a recon capacity...gathering intel and otherwise keeping his trap shut (in that regard, he was more Oliver North than Ed Snowden, ya might say).
Despite his innocuous official title, Soundwave is stone cold killer, a calculating, emotionless, monotone warmonger who never tries to one-up his commander, always keeps an eye out for his boys (though not necessarily for all the other Decepticons, since he knows they lack loyalty to their leader), and never backs down from a fight.
When you roll with a shoulder-mounted gatlin-gun/laser cannon, most folks get out of your way. If they have a eyes and a brain.
Perhaps it is these above traits which have endeared the robotic bad boy to fans of the hip-hop genre, who often incorporate Mafioso-stylings into their own imagery. There's no denying, Soundwave fits the bill of an original gangster.
Soundwave's personal attributes, combined with his retro looks (a cassette player!), red wraparound eyewear, carry-on posse of savages, and laid-back color scheme have made a singular star.
Transform and Rise Up!
That's the motto of the Decepticons, an in-your-face challenge to their mortal enemies, the Autobots, who shout "Transform and Roll Out!" Not bad, Optimus Prime, but "Rise Up!" does have a more aggressive lean to it.
Not only that, it suggests the Decepticons have something to rise up from, that they are the ones who are down in the first place, the ones scrambling to make a name for themselves, to carve out a piece of the pie.
To get rich or die tryin', as rapper 50 Cent put it.
Taking the Time to Perfect the Beats
Deviant Art and other sites are full of DJ-themed art featuring the music-loving Soundwave. It's a little ironic--a cassette player spinning vinyl. But who cares? You want to step up to Soundwave and question him about it, be my guest. Most likely you'll get paid a visit by Ravage, ejecting into the air to come chew your arms off.
Nothing is as loyal as a giant transforming robot alien cat that lives inside your torso. Nothing!
Speaking of Ravage...
All true players roll with their crew, and as mentioned Soundwave just kept it simple by carrying his around with him. So whenever he needs to let slip the dogs of war, all it takes is the press of a button. Why he has to press his own buttons, I couldn't say. But who cares? It's cool!
But it is also in authentic gangster fashion. Did the Godfather go out to gun down Sollozzo the Turk? Well, no he couldn't; he was in the hospital... But even if he'd been at home, the answer is still no. He would send forth the goons.
Megatron has his goons; but Soundwave, Megatron's most trusted agent, has his own spies and assassins at his disposal. In essence, the giant Walkman is but one step removed from the top position of Decepticon power, even though Starscream prefers to think of himself in that slot. Intrigue abounds in the world of the Cybertronians!
But at the end of the day, as skilled and cunning as Soundwave is, in his heart he only wants to be left alone to chill out and jam to some tunes.
Energon cubes, destroying all Autobots? Meh. That noise can wait...'cause everything's cool in the mind of a gangster.
At least that's what Geto Boys told me... Actually I really have no idea.