CBR News spoke with Scott and Howell about what's next for "Transformers: Windblade," what it means for their title character to learn that Prime may not be the 100% altruistic hero she once believed him to be, and why giant, battling robots provide the perfect allegory to explore themes like politics, war, gender and more.
Starscream has been handling this all magnificently, maneuvering everything into place. Has it been fun to get to have him outpace the others and show off his political agility?
Scott: Starscream is one of my favorite characters and I've had a great time revealing just how cunning he is. He also has a big advantage because everyone else in the book wears their heart on their sleeve. Windblade wants to save Caminus. Optimus wants to save Cybertron. And Starscream just wants to do whatever's best for Starscream. That makes him a lot more flexible than our other characters, and he uses that flexibility to its fullest extent. When Starscream sent Swindle and Menasor to Caminus, I saw a lot of people exclaiming that this would be Starscream's last mistake, and by the end of "Combiner Wars" he'd be ousted from power. I think underestimating Starscream is a lot of people's biggest mistake.
Scott: So at the end of "Combiner Wars," Caminus and Cybertron are now connected via SpaceBridge, and the Cybertronians have learned of at least four other colonies. Windblade's new mission is to make first contact with these worlds and somehow convince them to ally with Cybertron's new Council of Worlds, but each colony will have its own unique challenges she'll have to deal with. We're also kicking open a lot of doors to continuities that haven't been explored much in IDW. We're including a whole lot of new Transformers, many of which fans will know from other iterations of the brand throughout the years.
The Transformers comics seem to handle sci-fi as allegory more capably than anyone else is able to right now. What is it about the Universe which makes them so suitable to introduce themes of politics, war, gender and the like?
Howell: I think it's because when you get to see huge talking robots fighting, you can be sneaky with some bigger themes like political disputes and rivalries or the cause and costs of war. Everyone reads it to have fun, but they come away with a little bit more than that -- or at least that's the hope, anyway.
Scott: When you are dealing with alien robots, you have just enough distance between you and the subject that you can explore difficult ideas and themes much more comfortably. "Transformers" as a brand has always dealt with war, battle fatigue, prejudice and factionalism. And while our main goal is to tell a really great story, it's always my hope that we're giving people the chance to explore the rationale, emotions and beliefs of people they wouldn't get the chance to do in real life.
Was it a conscious choice to pick characters from so many different versions of the franchise and unite them here?
Scott: My goal for introducing more diversity to the brand has always been about opening as many doors as possible. I never want a writer to think "I can't introduce Character X because they have no place in this universe." So Caminus got the ball rolling on introducing female Transformers, but now all these other colonies will have female Transformers, too. My next thought was how can we push this further and introduce more bots. I realized that we had a lot of G1 and G2 bots but what if you grew up with "Beast Wars" or "Animated" or any of the later generations of Transformers? I wanted something for those viewers, too. These colonies have allowed me to open even more doors and create a whole universe of possibilities for future stories and future characters. I want any fan no matter their age or what iteration of the brand they grew up with to be able to see their favorite Transformer fitting in to the story.
The producer and head writer for Cartoon Network’s “Robots in Disguise,” Beechen shared with SPINOFF how he’s working to open up Transformers to a younger audience while building on the stories that have come before. He also explained what it’s like to tap “Batman Beyond’s” Will Friedel as the voice of Bumblebee, teased the show’s long-term mysteries about the fate of Optimus Prime, and more.
Spinoff Online: Over the past few years, Hasbro has kept the continuity from all their various “Transformers” franchises unified in one way or another between TV and video games and comics. This show is a step forward in that idea since it takes the premise past the “Autobots and Decepticons crash-landed on Earth.” What’s it like to be writing what is the forefront of the canon in some respect?
Adam Beechen: I think that I had the benefit coming in of never having worked on the Transformers franchise before. I didn’t write for “Prime.” And so I wasn’t as emotionally tied to all of the continuity elements that a lot of the people who had worked on that show had been. And it’s great that they are because they’re a wonderful resource for me to find out background info I need. But my main goal coming into this series was, “Let’s make this a show for Bumblebee. Let’s give him the exposure he hasn’t really had in a brand new way.” And as part of that, we get to introduce a bunch of new characters for a new generation of viewers that they can get attached to. It’s still part of the larger Transformers universe, but you don’t have to know 30 years of history to enjoy them, appreciate them and just have fun.
And the show then can serve as a bridge tonally between “Rescue Bots” and “Transformers Prime.” The kids aging out of “Rescue Bots” can jump onto “Robots in Disguise” and still feel at home. But at the same time, they have a little bit more serious adventures with a little bit higher stakes. And then they can ease into all the giant continuity that the series have put together.
Is it liberating as a showrunner when you work with a company like Hasbro and you have a guaranteed order for a long run on the series?
It doesn’t so much change your approach, but you know how many episodes you have, so you pace out the story you’re telling accordingly. Typically what happens in a situation like this is that at the start of the season you sit down with the brand team and find out what their plans are in terms of the upcoming seasons – as in calendar seasons – for what toys they’re releasing when and what kind of story elements they’d like to see in the upcoming episodes. You have that meeting and plan out episodes according to that, but doing so in a way that tells the best possible stories. You’re not just cramming toys in there. You want to tell a cool story and help with what they’re doing as well. And it just runs from there.
It’s pretty rare that a brand will come back to you in the middle of your season and say, “By the way, we’ve come up with a new figure that will be on the shelves of the toy stores tomorrow. Get it into the next episode!” There’s not any time for things like that. So after that initial meeting, you’re well aware of what you want to do over the course of the season and how to make everyone happy. From there, you’re free to tell the coolest stories you can.
And what about the comics side of all this? Frequently, there will be a kid-friendly comic version that ties into the show in a way that fleshes out what we see on screen. Is that the case for July’s series from IDW?
We’re very aware of what’s happening with the comics, and we love what IDW has done with this world. That factors into our thinking, and we’ve had the good fortune of having one of the key comic book writers – Mairghread Scott, who you may or may not be familiar with – work with us. Mairghread was the script coordinator on our series, and she graduated quickly to being one of the key writers on the show. She is a living repository of all things Transformers, and so she knows what’s gone on across every single medium the characters have ever appeared in. As we were working, she’d say, “The comics have already been there. You may want to do something different with an episode.” Or she may say to the comic editors, “The show did this thing, so it would be kind of cool if you tied it in this way.” I can’t say for sure how all the comics will reflect the series, but we’re definitely aware of each other as we go forward
To say that Tom Scioli and John Barber‘s Transformers vs. GI Joe is an unusual comic is underselling things quite a bit. On paper, it’s a natural fit, an ongoing series that follows in the footsteps of earlier books that have combined the two toy lines into one massive interplanetary battle. In practice, though, it’s something a lot bigger, a comic that almost assaults the reader by cramming in as much big, wild stuff as it possibly can — a toy comic so weird, and so great, that it almost feels like it shouldn’t exist.
With the book’s second storyline well under way, throwing in everything from Vikings to old gods to Dinobots (and a new printing of his amazing American Barbarian on the way this summer), I talked to cowriter, artist and occasional ComicsAlliance guest contributor Tom Scioli about the series. Today, he talks about building a history for a universe that’s even more important than our own, the two-page Free Comic Book Day story, and why his book isn’t a paean to Snake Eyes. You can read the first part of this interview here.
CA: The next specific scene that I wanted to talk about was the first page of #6. Every time I think this comic can’t get any wilder, it gets bigger and weirder in a way that I find really enjoyable. This comic opens with Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden by floating Transformers with laser swords.
TS: It’s a universe. It’s a whole universe. My thought is that the Transformers vs. GI Joe universe is the most important universe there is, and while you’re reading it, it’s even more important than our universe. There’s an Alpha to that universe and there’s an Omega to that universe, and what you were witnessing was Roadblock’s reading of the Cobra Bible, the Decepticobranomicon, so what you’re reading may well be an actual accounting of what happened. It might be mythology. It might be disinformation. It could be any number of things. There’s a deep history to this world.
CA: I’ve said this before, and I mean it in the best way possible, but I’m always surprised this book exists.
TS: Right. [Laughs]
ComicsAlliance: The first thing I want to talk about is pacing. Jumping into Transformers vs. GI Joe #5, which is the start of the second paperback if people are reading it that way, they’re getting a comic that moves so fast that it is often hard for me to keep up.
Tom Scioli: Well, issue #5 would be the one, because issue #5 is where it really accelerates. I just find that so many comics have a lot of redundancy, a lot of over-explaining, a lot of images of basically the same thing, so part of the approach is to just eliminate redundancy and just give you the things you need to move the narrative forward. I sort of crossed a point of no return with it, I think, and where that came from is that I wrote a script for a Transformers vs. GI Joe movie adaptation.
You know, the movie doesn’t exist yet, but I made a comic as though I was adapting a movie, and how movie adaptations are. There are chunks missing, and jumps because of the time it takes to take an hour and a half movie and put it into a comic, you’re going to have to cut some things out. I wrote something with that sort of style in mind, and after I did that, I realized that’s a tool I could use any time. It doesn’t have to be restricted to this particular conceit, it’s just a tool in my arsenal now. It was really effective in that script, which hasn’t come out yet, but it was just a really intense reading experience.
CA: The interesting thing about that to me is that, like you said, there have been Transformers and GI Joe team-up books before, and now you’re doing it as an ongoing series and using the entire cast of both books, as they have existed for thirty years. There’s not a whole lot left on the table.
TS: That’s one thing I noticed. I was sort of going through all these characters and throwing them in, and now I’ve sort of reached the point where it’s like, “Oh, what Decepticon villain can show up?” and most of them are there already, pretty much. There’s an endless number of jets that I can go to, but most of the really resonant ones have shown up, so now it’s just getting weird, which is actually interesting. Now we’re getting into the Pretenders and the Predacons, all the weirder corners of the mythology.
CA: That’s something I wanted to bring up, because you’re at the point now where you’re creating new stuff.
TS: I want to go more in that direction. I thought doing a comic like this, that’s an established thing, would be easier — having a universe that’s already established that I’m just building up. But I’m seeing the limitations of it. I really do want to just create more and add more to it. It’s not so complete a cosmology that there’s a character for every season. I thought there would be a character for every occasion, and in a lot of cases there are. I needed a character who was a chef, and, okay, Roadblock is a chef, I can use him. But there are a lot of holes in the mythology that I’m trying to fill in.
That last Transformers movie… they went nuts. It almost wasn’t even Transformers anymore, it was this infinite universe of every kind of creature you can imagine, and that freed me up too, realizing that I could make this universe whatever I wanted it to be. It doesn’t have to just be giant robots that turn into cars or dinosaurs, it can be a universe.
Who’s your favorite character to draw right now?
That’s a good question. [Pause] A tie between Skids & Nautica. I always liked to draw Skids since I got to design him for issue 2.
I also have a lot of fun drawing Nautica—right now I’m working on issue 42, which has them interacting, so I’m having a lot of fun drawing my two favorites in the same panel.
On the flip side, who’s the most difficult one to work on?
Ah, that’s a good question. [A lengthy pause, some muttering] Whoever I haven’t drawn a lot of in a long time is usually the hardest one to work on. I don’t know, sometimes the hardest one can be Ultra Magnus, just to make sure the scale’s right.
Ah, that makes sense.
Other times it can be Getaway. The hardest one I’ve ever had to draw, that I never feel like I get right, is Red Alert, but he’s not on the ship in season two, so I don’t have to worry about drawing him right now.
So, um, is there anything else you’d like to talk about that we haven’t touched on already?
Hmmm … well, I’m really happy for the inclusion of more female Transformers. Since the preview for issue 41 is out showing more female Transformers, I can only be happy about that. Over the years I snuck in female Transformers in backgrounds. Megatron Origin, the Drift miniseries in the Circle of Light (a faction of Transformers). They make the world bigger; the more the merrier. Now it’s better that I don’t have to sneak them in, and I’m like, “Yes, they’re there!” I’ve been rooting for them for eight years now; we need more!
That makes me really happy to hear, coming from you. Did you design Firestar’s flame hair, as seen in the issue 41 preview?
Yes, it was me who came up with Firestar’s hair. When designing characters, I ask myself, “How can i make interesting character designs?” I look at silhouettes, heads. What’s a standard head, what’s different?
l looked at different things; when I was designing her I designed her altmode first. I put her head in the altmode’s back as the exhaust. I asked myself, “Can I get away with fire for hair?” But since it’s the exhaust for the car, it kinda works. I thought about how’d it work for portraying different emotions. If knocked out, she’d have little blue flame or it’d be snuffed out. If enraged, her hair expands and just goes nuts. It’s a great way to show emotion.
I had the altmode and head design, took it to James, and said, “James, this is the idea.” He went, “That’s really cool! I have fire for hair [to work with].” It’s really different, and it makes her stand out among other characters.
Along with the other female Transformers, I started thinking about different designs that haven’t been done before. I’ve got to post them online so other people can see her. There’s a big female Transformer I want to show off, one who doesn’t have a standard head at all, but one singular eye. It was really fun to do. It’s just really fun to try new things, to see whats out there.
Transformers is all about change; you don’t have to be stuck to the standard. The big thing with Firestar was keeping in elements of the original design. When IDW started out with Transformers, they’d take a character and do something completely different; it’s how I did her design.
JB: What was your entry into the world of Transformers—as a fan, I mean? Do you have a favorite version of Transformers from over the years?
GB: I was parked in front of every episode of Transformers G1 in the 1980s but I couldn’t convince my mother to buy me any of the toys. She was a huge toy collector and had no problem showering me with Star Wars figures but Transformers just didn’t speak to her. After tons of pathetic begging she bought me one: Topspin, a Jumpstarter who sort-of-kind-of popped onto his feet when you pulled him backwards.
GB: I missed out when the movie was in theaters due to the same lack of parental interest—I saw it years later on TV and turned it off when Starscream died, because without Starscream around I just didn’t see the point. I returned to Transformers with Transformers: Prime, then jumped into the comics and bought my own toys, although my daughter’s plan to “share” the Bumblebee I got for my birthday isn’t working out in my favor. Now if only someone would take nine boxes of Star Wars figures off my hands.
JB: This new TRANSFORMERS ROBOTS IN DISGUISE comic is based on the all-new hit tv series airing on Cartoon Network. But this comic isn’t an adaptation—it’s all-new stories set in that world, but with… well, without giving anything away, some old friends you’re only going to see in the comic, right?
GB: The stories tie into the continuity the show shares with Transformers Prime and what happens in the cartoon will have consequences in the comic. But the comic will also feature new villains and explore different themes. There will be squabbles and there will be punching, but the first arc weaves in an element of mystery and betrayal. Bumblebee has to put the pieces together and he may not get them in the right order. I like resolving subplots in one or two issues within the context of a longer ongoing story, I’m not a fan of ending an issue without getting somewhere.
JB: What do you think of TRANSFORMERS ROBOTS IN DISGUISE artist Priscilla Tramontano’s work? Have you two had a chance to collaborate much yet?
GB: This will be my first time working with Priscilla, who I was familiar with mainly for her color work in the comics. I love the somewhat organic feel she brings to the characters that lets them act out their emotions, she’s the perfect choice.
JB: Any other messages for Transformers fans out there?
GB: Transformers Robots in Disguise is accessible to new readers and is all about action and fun. Plus Autobots punching weird Decepticons in the face.
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