The Quintessons were first introduced in Transformers: The Movie as more or less throwaway villains...or so we were led to believe. Basically, these jolly fellows were psychopaths. In the movie, they were seen administering "justice" to any captives they managed to get their hands -- excuse me, tentacles -- on. This justice consisted of them placing their victims on a retractable plank above a watery pit of Sharkticons (seemingly mindless drones that transformed from robots into things that more closely resembled coelecanths than sharks), deliberating for a few moments, pronouncing judgment (the options were guilt or innocence), and then dropping them in the pit. This is particularly interesting since every person who appeared before them was dropped into the pit regardless of the rendered verdict. At least they knew how to keep their justice system consistent. As if that weren't strange enough, they populated their entire planet, Quintessa, with intricate mechanical replicas of underwater lifeforms for the sake of just doing it. These robotic squids, fish, and sponges swam around devouring each other all day. (Then again, how that differs from the way "real" underwater creatures (and most above-water ones) act is debatable.) Towards the end of TFTM, it seemed as if the Quintessons were going to be slaughtered en masse by their somewhat easily-manipulated Sharkticons. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately, depending upon your point of view), such was not to be the case.
I hate to seem judgemental, but it seems as if that was the rallying cry of the writers for the original Transformers series. Sure, some of it was sort of trivial stuff ("were the Constructicons built on Earth or on Cybertron?") but a lot of it was pretty significant stuff, not the least of which revolved around how the Transformers were actually created. In the first couple of seasons of the show, much of the backstory went untold. That's not surprising or really even bad; after all, it leaves the door open for someone else down the road to do it. As you're probably aware, the Transformers were/are robots. Being robots, they're also machines. So in the first season, it was no big deal when the Autobots sat down one day and built some more soldiers -- five of them, to be exact -- and these were the ever-popular Dinobots. At the end of the first season, the Decepticons built some soldiers of their own -- six of them -- called the Constructicons. In the middle of the second season, however, it was revealed that all Transformers were essentially mindless drones until they were properly "given life" by the Vector Sigma supercomputer on Cybertron, the home planet of the Transformers. This is rather problematic because it means that the earth-built Dinobots and Constructicons should just be mindless drones. After all, they never went to Cybertron to have personalities given to them. Then again, it might be a legitimate argument that such a thing was unnecessary for the Dinobots, since they weren't exactly a bunch of geniuses anyway -- they had simple minds because they were built with simple materials. But the problem was a bit more compounded for the Constructicons, considering they were supposed to be these architectural and scientific geniuses. That would seem to rather preclude them from being "mindless," which they should have been by the rationale presented in the second season. So in a move that would go on to typify the creative mindset for the show, the writers simply declared in a subsequent episode that the Constructicons were built on Cybertron millions of years ago and never again referenced the episode in which they made their first appearance. Oh, ok!
Throughout the second season of the series, there were many episodes that dealt with issues relating to Cybertron's past. None of them made any specific references to the origins of the Transformers in general, but a fairly basic and recurring theme was the idea that the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons had once lived in harmony with one another before they started a destructive civil war that led to the planet being drained of virtually all of its energon -- the Transformer equivalent of money, food, and oil all rolled into one -- and thus necessitating voyages into deep space to locate alternative forms of energy. Of course, the fact that most of these episodes directly contradicted one another was beside the point. The movie, which took place 20 years after the end of the second season in the year 2005, didn't really contradict any pre-established continuity, but it did create a few minor headaches, specifically the Autobot Matrix of Leadership. This odd thing is basically impossible to describe in any physical sense, so let's just say that it's this huge golden easter egg with a glowing blue ball of energy inside of it that the Autobot leader is supposed to keep in his chest at all times (unless, of course, that time is the Autobots' "darkest hour," in which case the leader is supposed to take it out of his chest and open it, thus releasing the blue energy and solving whatever the crisis might be. No, I didn't make this up.). Since these guys are robots, it goes without saying that they get blown the hell up all the time. The Autobot leader Optimus Prime was particularly susceptible to this problem, but we never saw or heard about the Matrix for the first two and a half years of the show. Oh well, maybe all the Autobots and Decepticons just took it for granted. The Decepticon leader Megatron mentions it rather flippantly in the movie as he's bargaining for his life with the Galactus knock-off Unicron, so maybe he never mentioned it before because he thought it was worthless to him. So perhaps it should come as no great surprise when in speaking about the relatively major revelation that the Quintessons created the Transformers, nobody was particularly shocked, amazed, hot, or bothered.
Something Ugly This Way Comes
Before we talk about the specific history of the Quintessons, let's talk about what, exactly, they are. If you remember your first grade Latin, you'll have by now picked up on the "quint-" prefix. This does, in fact, imply something involving the number 5. What is that thing? Faces. Five faces. And, for various reasons that are never explained, the Quintessons like to change faces every so often. Perhaps you're now asking yourself "well, gosh, how did that work?" Imagine, if you will, an egg. Now turn it upside-down and paint it metallic grey. Now affix each of the five faces in a circle around the circumference of the grey egg. Depending upon the mood of the Quintesson, the faces rotate like a roulette wheel. Pretty neat, huh?
Now you're probably wondering what the faces look like. Well, it's a good thing the animators were lazy and made almost all of the Quintessons exactly identical to one another and therefore easier to explain. One face looks like a skull wearing a green pharaohnic headdress. The one immediately to the right of it looks like a sideways vagina with eyebrows inside of a green motorcycle helmet. To the right of that one is a dead-ringer for Jafar from Disney's Aladdin with a strange red and black "hairstyle" including outrageous sideburns. After that is a strange face that looks like the title character from everyone's favorite 1930s German film Das Ewige Jude wearing a red starfish on its skull. The final face is simply Nina Hagen with an absurd hairstyle that includes several green spikes. More or less.
Now, we have this monstrosity before us and the question inevitably becomes "ugh...what else?" In keeping with the upside-down egg idea, imagine a huge yellow beam of light descending from the bottom of it. This beam of light is how the Quintessons move around. To top it all off, they have a seemingly endless number of grey tentacles for appendages. And so we now have before us the standard-issue Quintesson.
Unfortunately, nothing is ever that simple. I think the implication is that there is some sort of Quintesson hierarchy based on how many faces one has, since the regular Quintessons (as described above) are almost always the ones seen giving orders. These guys are basically called the "judge" Quintessons. The next type is the "bailiff" Quintesson. Thankfully, the bailiffs only have one face apiece and it resembles a bright green and silver version of the head of the xenomorph from Alien with a white goatee and a sky blue face with red eyes. Their bodies look like R2-D2 minus the legs/wheels and with a lot more green. They too have the beam of light propulsion system, but their tentacles are far fewer and are green. The next type I call the mage Quintesson. These characters have the same body as the bailiffs and they only have one face as well, except for the fact that this face represents approximately 60% of their bodymass and resembles Fu Manchu stuffed inside a pink and white oyster shell. The other types only appeared in one episode each and frankly I've got a headache from just describing the three main types as it is.
Consumer Goods and Military Hardware
As was revealed in the unintentionally hilarious and ominously entitled third-season miniseries Five Faces Of Darkness, the Quintessons were the first and original inhabitants of the planet Cybertron. I believe at one point it was said that they actually created the planet, but I can't remember the specifics. In any case, the Quintessons were on Cybertron building civilizations and having a good time. As their society became more technologically advanced, they began experimenting with biomechanical organisms. Unfortuantely for them, their first experiments with biomechanics didn't go so well, and since they couldn't destroy their somewhat destructive creations, they put them into a collective state of forced hibernation within Cybertron's core. (Scourge -- probably the least helpful Decepticon ever created -- would one day stumble into a room in the middle of the planet and reactivate these rampaging monsters.) After a while, however, the Quintessons became better engineers and eventually mastered the art of advanced robotics.
Their original robots came in two types: consumer goods and military hardware. It's unclear exactly who these consumers were or what military conflicts the Quintessons engaged in, but based on clues given in the third season, it's pretty reasonable to guess that the Quintessons just sold them to creatures on other planets. Before long, though, the Quintessons became lazy and treated their creations like slaves. The robots eventually grew tired of their tyrannical masters and drove them from the planet in a cataclysmic revolt from which the Quintessons would never fully recover. The robots got along fairly well for a while, but it didn't take long for differences in their programming and design to set them against one another. The military hardware robots became bent on destruction and conquest, and the most obvious targets were the consumer goods. Although the military hardware prevailed for a while, the consumer goods were more versatile and began to fight back in ingenious ways. One of the innovations of the consumer goods was the art of transformation. They were able to fight back against the military hardware successfully until they too learned to transform. The descendants of the consumer goods became the Autobots and the descendants of the military hardware became the Decepticons. (Note that at no point in the entire history of the Transformers were these sentient robots ever required to appear before the Vector Sigma supercomputer to gain their intelligence or personalities, thus contradicting an already contradictory idea.)
The Best Laid Plans...
For their part, the Quintessons traveled to the far ends of the universe and created another planet called Quintessa where they spent their time planning for the eventual reconquest of Cybertron. They concentrated their efforts on building robots similar in style to the original military hardware but with much less intelligence. I guess the idea was that they wouldn't revolt, but they couldn't even get that right (as evidenced by the absurd Sharkticon rebellion mentioned above). When they weren't building transforming robotic fish with the minds of garden slugs, they spent their time starting intergalactic conflicts through behind-the-scenes machinations that allowed them to sell weapons and other vital equipment to both sides. Presumably, it is at this point that they developed their rather...fascinating...legal system, which seemed to be based solely on the premise of interrogating whatever prisoners floated their way and then killing them. In the Marvel comic book adaptation of the Movie, there was some incredibly bizarre angle that had the Quintessons as servants of Unicron whose mission it was to kill those who escaped his wrath, but in true 1980s Transformers fashion, this was never elaborated upon or even referenced again.
The Quintessons did not begin their attempt at reconquering Cybertron until the aforementioned Five Faces Of Darkness and even then it didn't do them a whole hell of a lot of good. After kidnapping and attempting to interrogate the Autobots Kup and Ultra Magnus along with their incredibly important human ally Spike, the Quintessons were caught off-guard by an Autobot rescue attempt. The Quintessons then exercised the only logical course of action open to them: they blew up Quintessa with the Autobots still on it and then flew off into space on spaceships that looked like green and silver corkscrews. Of course, the Autobots escaped and so they blew up their home planet for nothing. Following that, they travelled to the planet Charr, which is where the Decepticons who survived the movie (basically all of them except for Shockwave and the first-year jets) had set up camp and offered them a huge amount of energon for their help in destroying the Autobots. Since the new leader of the Decepticons, Galvatron, had disappeared, and his lieutenants Cyclonus, Scourge, and the Sweeps were out looking for him, they went along with the idea. One Decepticon, Blitzwing, declined to participate on the basis of some vague recollection of knowing the Quintessons from somewhere previously. It turned out to be a pretty good idea on his part, since the Quintessons failed to inform the other Decepticons that once they had finished with the Autobots on Cybertron, they would simply destroy all of them and resettle the planet for themselves. When Galvatron et al finally returned to Charr, Blitzwing filled them in on the details and they went after the Quintessons and the "disloyal" Decepticons. In keeping with his rather, shall we say, unstable mood swings, Galvatron confronted the Quintessons angrily and then immediately forged an alliance with them on the pretext that they knew the location of the Decepticon Matrix of Leadership. This got Galvatron's attention because he had never heard of such a thing. The reason for this, of course, was the fact that the Quintessons just made it up. Eventually, the Autobots foiled the plan and Galvatron kicked Blitzwing out of the Decepticons and then threatened to kill everyone within a five mile radius.
In what would become a familiar theme, the Quintessons allied themselves with the Decepticons on many occasions throughout the course of the third season. In a rare moment of clarity in the middle of the season, Galvatron once demanded to know why he ought to trust the Quintessons when a group of them offered their tentacles in alliance. The Quintessons, quite hurt, asked why it was that Galvatron was so sure that they were the offending former partners. Ignoring the rich history of deceit and betrayal, Galvatron threw his skepticism to the wind and remarked "well...you do all LOOK alike," and proceeded to make an alliance with them. Incidentally, this alliance is what led to the above-referenced occasion in which the Decepticons let loose the biomechanical monsters that nearly destroyed Cybertron and everything on it (including themselves).
Strangely, the Quintessons seemed to be deathly afraid of humans. The stated reason for this was the fact that they knew next to nothing about them. On a few occasions, the Quintessons engaged in bizarre psychological experiments involving the humans. Considering these experiments generally involved such research techniques as putting children into comas and then examining their dreams, they never managed to get a whole lot of useful information.
In one somewhat disturbing episode, the Quintessons brought the dead Autobot commander Optimus Prime back to life as a robotic zombie. Throughout the course of this particular episode, Optimus had various parts of his anatomy fall off and he made such proclamations as "YOU HAVE TO KILL ME." At the end of this episode, Optimus regained control of himself long enough to destroy many of the Quintessons in a suicide run that had him crashing his spaceship into the Quintessons' vessel and then into an exploding sun. This heroic sacrifice was then promptly nullified at the end of the third season in the 2-parter called The Return of Optimus Prime in which one of the judge Quintessons was abducted for the purpose of rebuilding the former leader in order to fight off a strange virus that turned humans, Transformers, and Quintessons bright red and made them incredibly violent. After this episode, the Quintessons did not appear in the series again. Considering the next season only contained three episodes -- and all of them sucked -- this isn't too surprising.
I think it's worth pointing out at this point that after having blown up their own planet, the Quintessons lived scattered throughout the galaxy on various asteroids and on their corkscrew spaceships. It should perhaps come as no surprise that at no time did they ever seem to pose any realistic threat to the Autobots or to the planet Cybertron. These somewhat enigmatic and completely bizarre characters are currently enjoying something of a revival in the new Transformers comics by Dreamwave. Even in the completely unrelated line known as Transformers Energon, there is a Quintesson-inspired character called Alpha-Q. Well, I take that back. There was was a character with that name, but he is now generally referred to as Alpha-Quintesson. If you say "Alpha Q" out loud, I think you'll understand why. So from throwaway sociopaths to malevolent god-figures, the Quintessons have a long and varied history that is a never-ending source of amusement for anyone who happens to see pictures of them.