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Protoforms are the basic form of Cybertronian life in several branches of the Transformers franchise, representing a Transformer who has not yet taken on an alternate form or forms. It is also used in some media to refer to the robot modes of various Transformers.
Protoforms are a central element of the Beast Wars animated series, serving as the primary means by which new characters were added to the series after the introduction of active Maximals and Predacons in the series premier. Contained within Stasis pods, they were kept aboard the Axalon as reserve crew and jettisoned into space when the Axalon and Darkside began to plummet towards the surface of Earth. As the first season progressed the orbits of several stasis pods decayed and they made planetfall, resulting in the addition of Tigatron and Airazor to Optimus Primal's forces and of Blackarachnia and Inferno to Megatron's forces. All the stasis pods containing the remaining protoforms were later brought down to Earth as a result of the events that produced the quantum surge; some were mutated like active combatants and became Transmetals while at least two were shown to have malfunctioned to produce the Fuzors Silverbolt and Quickstrike.
The second season also introduced the concept of blank protoforms, which lacked Sparks of their own and thus had no life; the first such blank was used to revive Optimus after he perished in the explosion that produced the quantum surge. Another stasis pod was revealed to contain the infamous Protoform X, a failed attempt to create a Maximal with an immortal Spark, while still another gave rise to the malformed being known as Transmutate. The last protoform featured in the animated series was a blank, which Megatron infused with the cells of the fallen Dinobot and with half of Protoform X's Spark in order to create Transmetal 2 Dinobot.
Many stasis pods containing protoforms were seen in the series but never produced Transformers on screen, a concept that was exploited in several comics. The first of these was Beast Wars: Primeval Dawn from 3H Enterprises, which saw one blank protoform used to revive Airazor as a Transmetal while others produced new combatants to join the battle between Primal Prime and Tarantulas. 3H also introduced the idea that criminals and exiles other than Protoform X were aboard the Axalon, including Packrat.
In Dawn of the Predacus, the Tripredacus Council experimented with protomatter and determined a means of reverting all Cybertronians on Cybertron's surface into protoforms, though their efforts to do so were partially thwarted by the Axalon blocking their wave with its shields. However, many Cybertronians-including Airazor, Grimlock, and Inferno-were converted into protoforms and placed within stasis pods.
The concept of other Axalon protoforms producing additional Maximals and Predacons for a splinter Beast Wars conflict was later revisited in the Beast Wars: The Gathering and Beast Wars: The Ascending, in which the Predacon general Magmatron implemented a plan to convert the various surviving protoforms scattered across Earth into Predacons. Razorbeast, the agent responsible for this task, was in fact a Maximal spy planted in Magmatron's ranks by Lio Convoy, and inserted a virus into the device Magmatron had him develop and employ for his machinations. As a result, while most of the protoforms were activated and placed temporally out of sync with the primary Beast Wars conflict like Magmatron and his crew, many of them were awakened as the Maximals they were intended to be rather than Predacons. Magmatron later located a blank protoform that he used to revive Ravage, whose Spark had survived his apparent destruction in the animated series.
Robots in Disguise
Robots in Disguise later featured six more protoforms in stasis pods, who were subsequently reprogrammed and became the Decepticons: the Commandos and Scourge.
Beast Wars: Shattered Glass featured several Autobot protoforms being lost on Shattered Glass prehistoric Earth and being found by Megatron, who reprogrammed them into Autolauncher, Scylla, and Autojetter.