CBM: How did you get involved with Combiner Wars?
Amy Johnston: "I got involved with Transformers: Combiner Wars through Bat in the Sun whom I had worked with previously on their show "Super Power Beatdown".
CBM: Were you a big Transformers fan growing up?
Johnston: "I have definitely been a Transformer's fan so when I found out about the role of Maxima I was super excited! How cool to have my own Transformer character! I love her!"
CBM: How did you find the right voice for Maximia?
Jonston: "Maxima was described to me as a strong female character who had a relationship wtih Windblade so I made sure to give her strength and passion yet retain a femininity about her."
Is there a challenge that's inherent to doing something like this? When you look at web series, you have a lot of like "Okay, we just grew up this property that you like" and it's mostly played for laughs. Is there a challenge to doing this seriously and not feeling like another kind of web series that's trying to take a fun?
The great thing is, both Machinima and Hasbro, they have never used that word with me. They said "You are making a series." They always put it at a higher level, and the show is budgeted, and distributed in a very sophisticated way, that to me, is not like a webseries at all.
So I think about this as an adaptation, I just go "Hey, it's my job as a creator to make the best work I can" and I don't think about "Oh it's only for this category so let's have fun", I want to tell this combiner wars story, and I'm going to tell it in 40 minutes. That's almost a movie, so I really treat it like that. There's act breaks, there's a solid structure to the character development, there's resolution. That's what I'm worried about.
ComicsAlliance: Since it’s the one that’s set on Earth, it seems like the post-Revolution combined universe is probably going to affect your book more than the others. How do you go about integrating the history of the Transformers on Earth into all of those disparate stories?
John Barber: In a macro sense, the GI Joe comic hasn’t really delved into the deep history of Earth and of the universe the way Transformers has, so there’s not a whole lot of back-time that’s irreconcilable. There were big Earth-shattering events that have happened in Transformers, and to a lesser degree, in GI Joe, so maybe there’s some squinting that needs to be done to make it all fit, but… I mean, we don’t name-check real-world tragedies in the comics with a great regularity. That doesn’t mean those tragedies didn’t happen, or wouldn’t have impacted the characters, it just doesn’t necessarily come up in the midst of a story focused on tracking down Tomax or Galvatron or whatever.
CA: With Ore-13 being such a big part of major Transformers stories like “Dark Cybertron,” is this something that’s been planned for the past few years, or did it just line up that way as something that could be mixed into the larger universe?
JB: That’s a complicated one to answer… Ore-13 is why the Transformers are on Earth. Ore-13 is on Earth because Shockwave put it there. Shockwave put it there (on Earth specifically) because, it seems, Galvatron (inadvertently) crashed the Enigma of Combination on Earth — the Enigma is a super-ancient Cybertronian relic.
So, what that all means is, going forth from “All Hail Optimus,” Ore-13 was playing a role. Revolution sort of focuses that a little tighter, and it made sense to highlight it thematically because it was something Simon and E.J. planted right from the beginning of Transformers comics at IDW, which was the beginning of IDW’s relationship with Hasbro.
So, it’s not like we did “Dark Cybertron” knowing inevitably that three years later we’d have Revolution, but the function of Ore-13 didn’t really change that much.
CA: Considering that More Than Meets The Eye has taken place almost entirely in the far reaches of space, will the restructuring of the post-Revolution universe affect your story, James? Will one of those side-quests take your crew to Earth at some point soon?
James Roberts: Well, MTMTE gets in on the action with a Revolution tie-in featuring the Scavengers, who are kind of the alternative main cast. That’s an Earth-based story. Nick Roche and I are co-writing for the first time since 2010’s Last Stand of the Wreckers, so even if we weren’t getting an opportunity to pit the world’s worst Decepticons against the likes of MASK and GI Joe, it would still feel like an event for us.
Post-Revolution, there are no plans for the main MTMTE cast to travel to Earth… but then that’s unsurprising, considering the situation they find themselves in at the end of MTMTE #55, which marks the end of what we’re calling the Season 2 finale, ‘The Dying of the Light.’
The post-Revolution universe is just that, though — a universe. And there are opportunities, should I wish to take them, to play around in the new, enlarged sandpit even though, as you say, the Lost Light and its crew are far away from Earth.
Season 3, as it plays out in the pages of Lost Light, is going to take everybody in some very strange directions. The quest for the Knights is going to much more at the forefront than it has been to date. There’s an urgency about it now that perhaps wasn’t there before. Different characters — and I’d being careful not to give anything away, because who knows who we’ll be focusing on in the future — will find themselves weighing up their loyalties and their priorities as we start to turn our attention, in small but significant ways, to the end of the quest.
CA: Chronicling political machinations and culture clash through the medium of robots that turn into cars seems like a tricky proposition, but it’s something that’s been at the center of the Transformers books set on Cybertron for quite a while now. How do you approach it to make it work without seeming silly — or at least, unintentionally silly?
MS: Science fiction has always been a place to talk about human issues that are a bit too touchy to explore with actual human characters. Police brutality, political and religious extremism, government corruption and overreach, bigotry, poverty, crime, these are all things our readers are confronted with every day. To act like Transformers, who are so like us, wouldn’t face the same challenges is disingenuous to the characters. To act like our book is supposed to teach some kind of set morality to our readers is disingenuous to our readers.
Instead we’re trying to build interesting, exciting stories that are real enough to feel like they matter without getting too bogged down in the ‘realness’ of any actual event. Turning into cars and planes is just as big a part of our characters as anything else. And it’s fun! There’s no reason to get rid of it just so we can feel “ripped from the headlines!”
That’s why an artist like Sara Pitre-Durocher is so critical to TAAO. She brings a humanity to our characters that lets our readers decide for themselves what the “right thing” is. But she also draws amazing action that keeps you turning the page. We want you to get an exhilarating story in every issue of Transformers: Till All Are One. If after you put it down, you think back to it when something happens in real life, so much the better.
Where are the areas of improvement for Hasbro in the UK and Ireland and how are you looking to tackle these?
The team has done a phenomenal job in all areas. The key for our team is to be relentlessly focused on driving our business, understanding our consumer and connecting with them across all possible touch points.
Simply put, we must not be satisfied with our current momentum and always be seeking out new opportunities to connect with our consumer.
Having moved to the UK from the US, what do you view as the key differences for Hasbro between both markets?
Simply put, there are many differences and many similarities, but that is only on the surface. I want to immerse myself in the culture, learn from my team, our retailer partners and the consumers.
I was born and raised in Canada and have lived in the USA for the past nine years. I have been fortunate to travel to and work in many countries and know that many differences exist, but the common bonds are also very strong. I can’t wait to learn more about these great countries and their people.
Today sees the release of IDW’s Action Man #1, which kickstarts a Hasbro expanded universe that brings together several of their other properties including The Transformers, G.I. Joe, Micronauts, M.A.S.K and more. Sadly, My Little Pony is not part of it. To celebrate the comic’s release, we caught up with the man who is spearheading this series – John Barber.
Barber is a man who has been hailed as ‘The God of Continuity’, and has previously worked with Marvel before jumping to IDW and writing for Transformers – both the Michael Bay movie tie-ins and IDW’s on-going series. But now he’s moving into a slightly less known territory of Action Man. So, why use him over more established characters?
“Well, it goes without saying that Action Man is the biggest character in the Hasbro stable,” Barber jokes. “No, I love Action Man, but I kid. [He’s] got a great set of fans, don’t get me wrong, but this comic is really about introducing the character to readers while honoring his history. The lead-up to Revolution is part of the DNA of the book Paulo Villanelli and John-Paul Bove put together. We’re not going to hit you over the head with it on page one, but Action Man is really the first book we’ve launched post-plans about the shared universe—I guess Rom #0 was the first, but Action Man was in that book in preview form, anyway. And Action Man absolutely plays a key role in Revolution—in fact he’s the first character you see in Revolution #1—but we’ll start to see these characters interacting in most of the comics leading up to Revolution (I say “most” as Micronauts is in another universe and More Than Meets the Eye is in deep space so we’re not cramming anything in that isn’t organic to the story).”
Is it going to be difficult to bring in characters from G.I. Joe, Transformers, etc?
“In a way, even though you don’t have to be reading Transformers,” he claims. “Revolution grows from the events in the Transformers comic Andrew Griffith and I do. Optimus Prime has declared Earth is under his protection, whether it wants to be or not. And for a lot of people, “not” is the answer. So when something starts going wrong with Ore-13—a substance Transformers can convert to energon, their food—signs point to the Transformers.”
IDW is no stranger to the world of crossovers, having brought Green Lantern to the world of Star Trek and countless team-ups between Transformers and G.I. Joe. There have also been connecting comics like Infestation, which tied together their on-going comics for Ghostbusters and Transformers but never saw the characters interact.
“IDW’s done really cool, really fun stories where they put together some great characters, like Star Trek/Green Lantern. And Tom Scioli (and slightly me, but Tom deserves all the credit) did absolutely amazing stuff on Transformers ss. G.I. Joe,” Barber says. “Then there have been line-wide stories like Infestation and Conspiracy where there’s a central spine and tie-in comics from different series, but the characters from one series don’t necessarily interact with each other—just with the central spine. I love those stories, but they’re very self-contained – that’s got advantages, of course. Transformers vs. G.I. Joe wouldn’t have the personality or impact it had if ten comics tied into it. But I think with the right project, it’s really great to have an event with big consequences in the comics crossing over.”
Barber has been hailed by fans as ‘The God of Continuity’, which makes him the perfect man to take on something like Revolution – as it not only brings together these characters but does so without compromising the stories already told. Is ‘The God of Continuity’ a fitting moniker?
“I don’t know about that,” he says laughing. “When I came on to Transformers, I sort of approached it as an archeologist. I dug in and read everything and took notes and thought about things and tried to see what resonated and what I could build on. I think I got too into the woods with that in places, but it created the worldview I have on some of the characters. Like, I looked at how Soundwave or Prowl were handled, and they were both written really differently by different writers over the years, and I thought through—what would make somebody be like that? What if they really did act all those different ways, what’s their deal? And that led to—I hope—richer characters.”
But the real question is: who would win in a fight between Bay’s Optimus Prime and IDW’s Optimus Prime…?
“The Bay Prime is more vicious, but I think Optimus in the Transformers comic is more tactical in his thinking at this point, and he’s not exactly a pushover,” he says. “I think the comic book one wins.”
When Revolution was announced earlier this month, there was a large vocal outrage from fans who felt that this ‘cash in’ was going to ruin the stories they’d liked in G.I. Joe: Real American Hero and Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye. IDW editor Chris Ryall spent a long time on Twitter answering fan queries and concerns, and told them all to trust the process.
“I used to edit Wolverine. I’m used to the internet reaction being negative,” Barber jokes.
But one has to wonder, did that level of negativity have some effect on the plans for Revolution?
“Nope. The plan is the plan and the plan is awesome,” Barber emphatically states. “I mean, there’s pressure, of course – Cullen and Fico and editor David Hedgecock and colorist Sebastian Cheng and I all feel a lot of pressure to not let people down, and to do justice to the characters, and to build a strong foundation to this world. Telling a story has it’s own pressure! A nice pressure, I’m not complaining – it’s great! But I don’t feel any additional pressure based on anybody’s initial reactions.”
“Transformers is going to change – the grand, over-arcing story I’ve been telling is still totally in place, now with cooler pieces making Earth a richer, more interesting place,” Barber says. “But the actual title will have a couple big changes.”
But Autobots and M.A.S.K. both have transforming technology—is there already a connection there? Ryall responds, “That’s an excellent question that I’m going to say will be answered within the pages of the Revolution event series.”
Naturally I had to ask if they were aware of my theory, as seen on Nerdist News, that the marketing for the new Transformers movie is hinting at ROM. The answers were…interesting.
“I got a lot of e-mails after that article got out there,” says Gage. “I think it’s pretty close to the original ROM logo.”
“It worried me,” says Ryall. “I want there to be a ROM movie, but I would like it to just sort of be a new continuity, not something that’s tacked on.”
CBR spoke with the creators involved in the five-issue unifying series, not only to find out how it came about, but also to learn what -- if any -- relationship it has to the film side of things, as well as what it is that will bring these various groups together.
CBR News: John, you've been involved on the editorial side of things for these books for a while. How did you feel about bringing the universes together?
John Barber: I'd always thought if I could go back in time, I'd make sure the IDW G.I. Joe comics took place in the same universe as the Transformers comics.
How did the decision to combine the contents of those boxes come about?
Barber: One day, the IDW editors were brainstorming ideas, and this notion of doing a crossover came about -- but I'm never totally sold on big crossovers that don't impact the subsequent status quo. Like, it's fun to cross over two properties and see how they interact, but I mean, if you're getting a lot of characters together, it has to have some impact on the world. Meanwhile, I think what Tom Scioli -- and me, a little -- did on the "Transformers vs. G.I. Joe" comic was great, really fun stuff. But that story was ending; Tom and I had it all planned to wrap up.
Then I remembered something Andrew Griffith, who draws "Transformers," suggested one time: the IDW G.I. Joe comics could fit in between big Transformers comics events. At the time, it wasn't anything we were really serious about, but now -- I started thinking about that. Did that actually kind of make sense?
This effort seems to reflect a similar plan for Hasbro's big screen adaptations. Do you have any communication with the people working on the films?
Barber: Hasbro Studios is very aware of what we're doing, and there's some back and forth sharing of information and ideas. I don't think there's been any big thing where we've seen things one way and they've seen things other ways. We've been remarkably in sync, I think it's fair to say. There've been some characters that have specifically come from the studio here and there -- some of these brands have been dormant for a while, and there are new angles they have on characters that they've shared with us, like Phenolo-Phi in "Micronauts." They have some amazingly talented people working in that writer's room -- like, seriously extraordinary people who have done amazing film, comics and television. The few I know personally are great human beings, too.
The funny thing with this was, it wasn't like a mandate came down and said, "Do this." Totally the opposite. IDW Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall and I flew out to Hasbro headquarters in Rhode Island to try to convince them to do this, because we really wanted to have this universe exist. And it turned out we were all on the same page. It was great, the people running the brands at Hasbro were all very into this and really supportive, and offered great ideas and angles on what we could do.
Fico, how is it for you bringing all these different characters who come from various backgrounds and realities together into one cohesive look?
Ossio: It sort of built up from my first take on G.I. Joe. David and John asked me to work on a cover/pinup of the characters and gave me license to give them an "upgrade."
I didn't want to really stray too far from the original cartoon, which I watched as a kid and loved. I had a bunch of G.I. Joe toy,s as well, so I wanted to just take those uniforms and give them more of a body armor look. Especially considering these guys were about to clash against 10-foot-tall robots. I could't grasp the concept of keeping them in regular army outfits or spandex -- sorry Snake Eyes. I think it works, because they still look true to their original design, but with a modern and updated look. Then, I took the new design of Action Man and applied the same as I did on G.I. Joe.
Next was Transformers. A lot of artists had worked on Transformers, and I found most of the designs Andrew Griffith had done were great. I respect his designs and pushed to make them more complex, with new, flexible parts and more of an organic look, which I thought would bring them closer to the combined universe. I also wanted to bring some of the elements from the movies. Except for Optimus. I couldn't help myself, and with him I pushed as far as the guys would let me.
As "Revolution" kicks off, what kind of threat or event is it that's big enough to bring all these different groups together? And what was the design process like developing that individual or force?
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Barber: The background is, Optimus Prime has publicly declared Earth to be under his protection and part of Cybertron's Council of Worlds. This isn't Dark Optimus; he's doing good things -- at least from his point of view -- but the people of Earth are naturally going to be concerned about this turn of events.
Now, one of the reasons Earth has been important to the Transformers is this substance called Ore-13. This has a long history in the Transformers comics, but the short version is it can be converted to Energon, which is the Transformers' fuel source. That means the Earth is one of the few places in the galaxy where Transformers can live -- it has a food source, basically. But Ore-13 has always had other properties -- an ability to supercharge Cybertronians, for one.
Something starts happening to Ore-13 around the world, making it unstable, and all signs point to Optimus Prime, who has no idea why this is happening. That sets the stage for "Revolution."
How will your own ongoings look different after the events of "Revolution?"
Barber: Lots of the Transformers comic I write will be different, including the title. But at the same time, it's building the same story I started writing five years ago. You don't need to know all that stuff, but if you do, rest assured this is all part of the big story we've been telling. It's an unexpected benefit -- I mean, 2011 John had no inkling that Rom or Scarlett or Acroyear or Windblade or Action Man would be there, but this all fits into the tale Andrew Griffith and I set out to tell.
But coming out of "Revolution," there are some big changes. Lots of stuff is going to happen between now and November, when "Revolution" ends.
But IDW editor-in-chief Chris Ryall insists this isn’t a reboot.
“We didn’t want this to be what fans have seen from so many others, which is a reboot or a relaunch where you’re asked to forget about all these characters and stories you’ve been following for years,” Ryall says. “It’s just now everybody will be acknowledging each other in a much greater way than ever before.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did this whole thing come about?
CHRIS RYALL: It happened in a stealthy way. When I was bringing back ROM, the co-writer Christos Gage and I were talking about a nice way to make something big and impactful happen in that issue. So at the end of the issue there’s a big reveal that shows ROM might be a part of a larger universe than fans expected at the start. We were going to stealthily seed things along the way, so that fans would think these guys might exist in ROM’s world and then, in talking about it internally, it just made sense, now that we’re launching Micronauts and ROM, and we’ve already got G.I. Joe and Transformers, and were looking to do M.A.S.K. All these things should exist together. That’s what fans want to see.
When we first launched G.I. Joe, fans asked us, “Are they gonna meet the Transformers?” And every time we’ve added a Hasbro title since then, it’s been the same question. Are the Micronauts gonna meet the Transformers? Is ROM gonna meet the Micronauts?
What will the event involve?
Revolution is its own thing. It’s a five-part biweekly series that we’re launching in September, and that series will detail the reasons why these characters are all drawn together. It centers around something called Ore 13, which is an unstable version of Energon, the material that gives the Transformers their power and life. There’s a version of that on earth, that has an adverse effect on tech, which adversely affects ROM, and changes the status of him and his villains, the Dire Wraiths. It affects the Micronauts universe in a way they didn’t expect, and then it also gives birth to M.A.S.K., which is a big new title we’re launching out of this.
So that series details the reason for all these characters to be drawn together. Then all the series will be relaunched with new number ones and this new status quo. The plan is to have the characters go back to occupying their own spaces. I don’t want G.I. Joe or Transformers fans to feel like they have to buy every issue of everything we publish now just to get the whole story. If they do, certainly that’s a nice outcome, but I still want them to read a Transformers book and have it feel like a Transformers book. It’s just, now within that universe, ROM is somewhere in the background and may be drawn back in at some point.
I'm very excited about Revolution, and it's absolutely not going to scale anything back from what's happened in any Transformers comics.
Revolution will get these comics where I think they always should have been, and since I like where they are already...
...I don't think we'll be losing anything we already like.
Oh--important note, the list of creative teams in the press release is for the Revolution tie-in stories.
Just to make clear--post Revolution, @SaraLePew and @Max_Dunbar will still be there!
How do the other Transformers books play in (MTMTE, TAAO), renumbered? ending? untouched?
We'll get into more specifics soon but some will end and restart differently; TAAO will keep rolling as is.
It won't affect Titan Wars. We've been threading this needle very carefully for some time know, building to this.
Rather, you can assume that any involvement will make sense to that series and not change what James has built.
OK now I'm panicking. Restarting MTMTE is just about the craziest thing to do to a book with such a hardcore fandom.
I understand the trepidation but we're not abandoning plans, characters or stories. Just moving things forward.
Not a reboot in any way, shape or form, actually. All the stories you read here before still happened.
We'll get into new-title specifics & teams before long. If you like the way things are, you'll be happy. Only moreso
@chris_ryall How will the IDW GI Joe continuity be reconciled with All Hail Megatron's global invasion that killed 15% of all humans?
It will be addressed. We're not scrapping things.
Please wait and see. It makes sense. And everything is always changing, just changing in the right ways here.
Not TAAO [renumbering]. We'll get into specific post-event plans before long. Never a good plan to reveal everything all at once.
I understand people don't want to lose what they like, I get that. But yes, the comic itself will put fears to rest.
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