The Worst Decisions of Cartoon Hero Leaders

optimus prime thinking

The heroes of the cartoons we grew up with are generally pillars of bravery, humanity and leadership. Optimus Prime, He-Man, Lion-O and more would frequently save the day with their strength and wits. But no one is perfect. Every once in a while, each of these heroes would make a boneheaded choice so stunningly stupid, you could lose your faith in the very idea of a hero and fall into an abyss of despair. Or maybe you just realized that writers sometimes made arbitrary choices to move a story along and you were keenly aware that it’s all just a story designed to sell toys. Either way, here’s the stupidest decisions by those heroes and more.

Optimus Prime Blows Himself Up for Losing a Video Game

Transformers Optimus died in the comic

That headline is no exaggeration. In issue #24 of Transformers (Marvel, 1986) Optimus Prime battled Megatron to stop him from stealing energy from a plant. A human programmer proposes a way for them to settle their battle without destroying the plant, something they both want. So they enter a virtual world, a video game. And then Prime ultimately defeats Megatron by collapsing a bridge that Megatron was standing on. Back in the real world, Optimus Prime insists to his Autobots that he lost because he decided to collapse a bridge that innocent creatures lived in. Sure, they weren’t REAL but Prime feels that he sacrificed his principles to win so he orders himself to be blown up and that’s what happens. Prime dies. Years later he would return to the comics because that programmer saved Optimus Prime’s brainwaves to a single five and a quarter floppy disk. The fact that Prime’s brain could fit on a single floppy disk might explain why he made such a stupid, stupid decision.

Lion-O Acts Like a Bigot and Nearly Assists in Genocide

Lion-O attacks a good but ugly Terator

Honestly, Lion-O makes a lot of dumb decisions but mostly they’re him overestimating his abilities and therefore he just has to call on the rest of the Thundercats at the end of the episode. But in episode 53, “Good and Ugly”, he goes a step further. He makes a bigoted judgement call. Two aliens are battling in spaceships above Third Earth and eventually battle near the Thundercats lair. Lion-O gets involved and learns the two sides are the Kymera, a beautiful female robot alien, and the Terators, a spider-like monstrosity. Lion-O sides with the Kymera without knowing anything about either side. You can probably guess that the “twist” is that the Kymera are evil and are trying to exterminate the Terators. Lion-O should’ve called in his team and tried to understand who these new people are but he just assumes his definition of beauty will inform him of these new aliens’ moral compass. Eventually, the truth comes out and the Thundercats beat up the Kymera.

Duke Ignores His Brother’s Incompetence and Puts G.I. Joes in the Hospital

lt falcon gets yelled at

In G.I. Joe: The Movie, Lt. Falcon is a new Joe that completely blows off his duties on multiple occasions and it leads to terrible results. First, Falcon escorts a girl he just met onto the G.I. Joe base and lets her photograph stuff as she pleases. Duke catches them and confiscates her camera and Falcon argues with him. This is a massive security breach but Duke fails to realize that the girl is Zarana in a wig. Okay, she’s a master of disguise. Still, they should have a procedure for debriefing a civilian and Falcon should be in a lot of trouble. Instead, Duke puts Falcon on guard duty because they’ve captured Cobra’s leader, Serpentor. Well, Zarana knows all the secruity measures and Cobra launches an organized attack to free him. And the first line of defense is Falcon on guard duty. Except he’s blown it off to go flirt with Jinx. He just… abandoned his post when G.I. Joe had captured their biggest enemy. The attack results in Alpine, Bazooka, and Gung Ho being put in the hospital (pretty much the biggest loss G.I. Joe has ever faced in the cartoon). And STILL Duke defends Falcon because it turns out they’re half brothers. So Falcon gets sent back to basic training. No court martial or dishonorable discharge. Just back to training. Later, Serpentor throws a snake spear at Falcon and Duke sacrifices himself by jumping in the line of fire. It puts him in a coma. Dude… your brother needs to learn the consequences of his actions. He’s not G.I. Joe material!

Leonardo Abandons his Brothers after a Nightmare

leonardo has a nightmare

In the season 3 episode of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, “Take Me To Your Leader”, Leonardo just decides to quit after having a nightmare. Not even as just a leader. He flat out ghosts on the team. Over a nightmare. And here’s the thing – his nightmare isn’t scary. At. All. It’s played for laughs. It involves the Turtles fighting Shredder, Bebop and Rocksteady but the villains attack them with spaghetti, bubble gum, and a fake pizza trap door. Shredder dresses like a chef and has a few tiny poodles attack Leonardo. That’s his nightmare. So he just tells the team he’s out and leaves. The other three turtles take turns as leader, each not doing great. Shredder uses some sort of winter machine to turn NY into winter. Eventually, Leo is on a walk and bumps into an old guy who runs one of the bridges (I don’t think that’s a thing) and they see the snow break it. Leo decides he should help his brothers and somehow just randomly comes across them while they’re fighting robots. If Leonardo hadn’t seen a bridge collapse, I guess he was willing to let his brothers get killed and Shredder take over the world because he was so scared of his nightmare of being attacked by poodles.

Leader-1 Trusts his Greatest Enemy Despite Repeated Evidence it’s a Trap

leader-1 is a loser

In the episode “Pacific Overtures” the evil Cy-Kill, leader of the Renegades (they sound cool but they’re the bad guys) offers a truce with Leader-1 and the Guardians (the good transforming robots). Even though Cy-Kill has betrayed him numerous times and constantly tries to kill humans and GoBots alike, Leader-1 is like, “Yup, this sounds good.” Turbo, his lieutenant, tells him its a trap and Leader-1 yells at him. Turbo snoops around and is captured by the Renegades and they are about to kill him but they are in public and he can’t, so he returns Turbo as a show of goodwill. Turbo tells him about overhearing the bad guys’ plan to ambush and kill them and Leader-1 STILL ignores him. Leader-1 goes to the peace talks and is ambushed. He’s not even strong enough to fight back adequately and has to be saved by Turbo and… Scooter who is an embarrassing robot with no gun that turns into a scooter. It’s an all-around embarrassment and after he gets saved, Leader-1 apologizes to Turbo for not listening and then claims they just had a victory. Uh, no. You almost got yourself and your whole team killed and had to get saved by your teammates.

He-Man Decides not to Use his Powers to Impress his Dad

he-man is caught by beast man in prince adam no more

In the episode “Prince Adam No More” He-Man suddenly feels sad that his father doesn’t respect him. Well, him as Prince Adam, anyway. He acknowledges to Sorceress that he acts clumsy and dumb as Prince Adam so that no one will suspect he’s He-Man but is then shocked when his father, King Randor, asks Man at Arms to summon He-Man as his escort on a peace treaty instead of asking his son, Adam, to come along. Randor spells it out pretty clearly to him, “You’ve never shown any interest in the kingdom’s state of affairs before. I figured you wouldn’t want to come.” But Adam does come along. The three men are immediately ambushed by Beast Man and some monsters. And here’s where He-Man/Adam really makes his dumb decision. He decides to try to fight off the monsters without his superhuman strength. He is defeated instantly. I mean right away. And the King is kidnapped. So Man at Arms has to literally explain to Adam that he kind of needs to use his superpowers if he’s going to fight monsters and Adam reluctantly agrees. Orko later tells us the moral of the story was that sometimes fathers have trouble saying “I love you.” No, the moral is that if you have superpowers, use them to defend the king even if he does cosplay as the Burger King full-time.

Cyclops Opts to be a Deadbeat Dad

cyclops abandons madelyne pryor

The worst thing Cyclops (Scott Summers) could be accused of on the 90s X-Men cartoon was just being dull. But in the comics, he’s made some real bad choices that make it difficult to think of him as a hero. The worst thing he did was also his first terrible decision, abandoning his wife and infant son. Cyclops had been in love with his teammate, Jean but she apparently died. Eventually, Cyclops met Madelyne Pryor, fell in love, got married and had a kid. Then Cyclops learned that Jean was actually still alive. He instantly abandons his wife and baby and forms a new team with his original X-Men team including Jean and doesn’t tell them about his wife and kid. A supervillain sends a team to kidnap the son and kill his wife. Madelyne doesn’t die but she gets beaten up pretty bad. Later, she dies and Scott marries Jean. Then he cheats on Jean with Emma Frost. Oh, and later he willingly accepts the Phoenix Force, the same force that drove Jean mad and seemingly killed her. It drives Scott mad and he murders his mentor, Professor X. What a hero!

  • Lamar the Revenger

    Seriously, Cyclops was the worst. Then to leave Jean for the witch? Dumbass. Plus there for a bit he was pervin on Psylocke too.

  • Big Jim

    Madelyne Pryor, not only being a dead-ringer for Jean Grey, but didn’t she turn out to be her clone?

    There are rebound relationships, and then there’s your first relationship after the tragic death of your one-true-love with someone who not only looks exactly like said dear-departed one-true-love but is her clone. And you say it ends badly? Who would have thought?

  • Chris Piers

    I tried to keep it simple. But the behind-the-scenes/real-life moves of Marvel caused a retcon. Chris Claremont intended for Jean Grey to be dead because she had gone evil as the Phoenix. He then intended to allow Cyclops to retire and live happily ever after. But then Marvel decided to bring Jean back and create X-Factor, composed of the original X-Men. So Claremont had the baggage of Pryor and their son (who eventually turns out to be Cable). He had Cyclops leave them because he was written into a corner.

  • Chris Piers

    I really loved Cyclops up through the Dark Phoenix Saga. But he’s gone pretty dark now.

  • Lion-o might be forgiven because he’s basically a little kid in an adult body.

  • Great observation, Big Jim.

  • Chris Piers

    I am aware but once you step up to be the leader, you kinda are held to a higher standard.

  • I need to find clips of these incidents. Especially Leonardo’s and He-Man’s blunders. lol

  • I think I remember hearing about this clone story before.

  • Damn, I always assumed Cable was Jean’s son.

  • Chris Piers

    Most of them are on YouTube. I name the episodes in the article so you can look them up.

  • Thank you!

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