Prime is a rank of highest distinction in many Transformers continuities. Typically, it is used as the identification for the leader of the Autobots, something that is bestowed only on those that carry the Matrix within them. It is derived from Primus, the creator of the Transformers.
- Japanese equivalent: Convoy
Marvel Comic continuity
The idea of Prime being a title/rank has its fullest expression here. A direct lineage of Creation Matrix bearers is established, each taking on a derivation of the name of their god Primus: Prima, Prime Nova, Sentinel Prime, Optimus Prime, Ultra Magnus and Rodimus Prime.
Of note is that the name Prime has no real necessary relation to Autobot leadership here. Optimus Prime becomes a Prime long before he becomes the overall Autobot Commander. Rather, Prime is a religious title (as the Creation Matrix is a religious artifact: a relic of their god). The closest human analogue to a Prime might be the Pope.
The evidence for "Prime" being a rank here is weaker than elsewhere but the case can still be made. Though many Matrix-Bearers are seen, and all are by definition Autobot Leaders, only four are ever named; 2 Primes, 1 Semi-Prime; 2 Non-Primes: Alpha Trion, Elita One, Optimus Prime, Ultra Magnus and Rodimus Prime. Without knowing any other names it is hard to make a concrete case here for "Prime" being a title given only to Matrix-Bearers.
Still, Optimus Prime named Rodimus, and it's hard to imagine him egotistically dubbing his successor with a derivation of his own name if "Prime" weren't traditional.
It's also noteworthy that the phrase, "Who died and made him prime?" was used by Maximal characters in Beast Wars, implying that, to them, "prime" was roughly equivalent to "leader". (Even though their leader was named "Primal".) Of course, they also used the word to mean "great" or "good" in the phrases "That's just prime," (said sarcastically), and "Feeling prime."
It is of note though that if it were, then "Prime" in this continuity would be a military/political title (since it is the Matrix of Leadership), rather than the religious title of the Marvel Comics.
This continuity also establishes Prime as leader of the Autobots, but there is some muddled information. The Prime carried within him the Matrix of Leadership, but it appears that the Matrix doesn't contain the wisdom of past leaders, as that was held on a separate datatrak. Also, the Prime did not appoint his successor. A new Prime was chosen by the Council of Ancients, supposedly through divine authority.
It's unknown what powers the Prime shared with the High Council and the Council of Ancients, but the Prime had several powers. In addition to being commander-in-chief of the Autobot Army, the Prime also had the authority to order a planet wide evacuation. Autobots gave oaths of loyalty to the Prime, and were expected to risk their lives for the Prime's safety (whether the Prime wanted them to or not).
IDW Comics continuity
Optimus Prime describes Primes as beings that define the eras they ruled. Thus, Nova Prime presided over an era in which the populace believed the Cybertronian race's destiny was in the stars, and commissioned the first Ark spacecraft. Although certainly a matrix-bearer, as confirmed by Optimus and Galvatron, Nova Prime disappeared into the Benzuli Expanse while aboard the Ark, with the Matrix guiding him into the Dead Universe.
Before the Great War, Sentinel Prime served as the head of the Autobot Security Services, the chief law enforcement and military body on Cybertron. However, he stresses that he is ultimately subservient to the will of the Senate who enact the laws he enforces.
After Cybertron is rendered uninhabitable, Optimus Prime is the apparent highest ranking Autobot, directing the galaxy-spanning conflict to deny the Decepticons conquest of additional planets. In this task, he occasionally seeks the guidance of the ancient Autobot and weapon of last resort Omega Supreme.
There appear to be at least four Primes predating Optimus Prime.
The title of Prime was bestowed upon the civilian and spiritual leader of Cybertron, but at the same time, aided the Lord High Protector in stewarding the All Spark just as the Lord High Protector was co-ruler. Optimus Prime held this title before, during and after the war for the All Spark as leader of the Autobots.
According to The Quest For the ALLSPARK paperback's opening paragraph, "...Most revered were Optimus and Megatron. They were twin brothers of the Prime dynasty." This, along with the note from the Autobots version of the same DS game that Megatron "took the spark" of his and Optimus' father, implies that “Prime” may have been their father’s name and that Megatron may have also had the surname "Prime" as well. Megatron Prime... now that sounds just wrong.
In Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, it is stated that millennia ago, there were Seven Primes who led the transformers. One of them, who would later be renamed The Fallen, betrayed the others by breaking their most sacred rule; destroying the sun of an inhabited planet (Earth) in order to create Energon. Eventually, The Fallen and his followers, who would become the Decepticons' ancestors, were defeated, and the key to the machine, the Matrix of Leadership, sealed away in a hidden temple made from the bodies of the six primes. Their title would eventually pass down the line until only one Prime, Optimus Prime, remained. Optimus is killed during a battle, but is resurrected by Sam Witwicky and as Jetpower Optimus Prime, kills the Fallen, making him the only living Prime.
Another Prime, Sentinel Prime is found and revived by the Matrix of Leadership, but proves himself to be evil and is killed by Optimus Prime with help from Megatron.
Prime is still a rank in this continuity, but one far lower than commander of all the Autobots (Supreme Commander Ultra Magnus). This is revealed when Sentinel Prime attempts to give an order to Optimus Prime. Optimus is able to disregard this order because regardless of Sentinel's standing on the Cybertronian Elite Guard, they are both still of equal rank, Primes. Both Ultra Magnus and Sentinel Prime have bars on their forearms, with more bars present for the superior officer. Optimus Prime lacks these, and as such it is unknown if they are only present in the Elite Guard. The Rank of Prime seems to be equivalent to the human rank of Captain in this continuity.
The title of Prime is not an honorary rank but the title of the diabolical leader of the Autobots. Optimus Prime stands as the current Prime. For now. Rodimus may very well usurp the title and position in the future.
- Remaining in alternate mode in front of a Prime and not transforming is considered very disrespectful. Like a Private not saluting a Captain in the Army.
- There has never been a recorded female Prime, until the Exiles novel. It was revealed that one of the Thirteen, Solus Prime, was a female.