In 2012 IDW went digital with Transformers: Autocracy, the story of Optimus Prime’s ascent to greatness and leadership of the heroic Autobots. Now the follow-up series is about to be unleashed and once again we travel back in time to a darker, dirtier and altogether more dangerous Cybertron than the one we’re used to… and that’s saying something!
Co-writer Flint Dille and artist Livio Ramondelli give us an insight into Monstrosity!
“The Decepticons are defeated. Zeta is gone. Optimus Prime is in control, but what you realise is that keeping the peace is sometimes harder than winning the war” – trust Flint Dille to find a cloud in every silver lining! It shouldn’t come as a surprise to any longtime Transformers aficionado; this is the man who killed Optimus Prime just half an hour into the original animated Transformers movie, only to oversee his return as an crazed robotic-zombie for a third season episode!
In fairness, Flint was still involved when Optimus Prime returned again in more triumphant fashion towards the end of the animated series’ run;
“Optimus is a great character, but what people tend to forget is that great characters often have times of incredible adversity, inability, unpopularity – how will Optimus hold up? Monstrosity is about what happens after the war – it can go well or it can go badly. It seems like it should go well…”
Seems like, eh?
Parallels are often drawn between Optimus Prime and other real world heroes, and Flint notes similarities between Monstrosity’s stand-up citizen and another great from history, who himself was in the Oscar spotlight recently.
“I recently watched ‘Lincoln’ and I can only speculate on what would have happened if he’d lived, but reconstruction wasn’t pretty. Monstrosity takes place in a world that needs to be rebuilt; not a hopeless world, but a world kind of teetering on the edge of both renaissance and oblivion, kind of like the real world today.”
Transformers comics have been enjoying their own renaissance period in recent times under IDW’s stewardship and artist Livio Ramondelli has certainly played his part in making the stories look as striking as they have done, with Autocracy in particular having a quite distinctive look – chunky yet detailed action-packed panels, with quasi-painted style colouring particularly effective at setting the tone. Explosive reds and dramatic golds, moody blues, contemplative natural greens and soothing, cleansing whites – would Monstrosity continue along a similar vein?
“Monstrosity picks up shortly after Autocracy, and so the planet will look very similar to how it did in the previous series, featuring the same sort of colour palettes,” explains Livio.
Although the story will definitely take us to some new locations – the characters will go to areas of the planet we’ve never seen before, and so the design of those environments will certainly look strikingly different, they’re going to discover a side of Cybertron that isn’t just cities. Also, there will be a major location in Monstrosity that is neither Cybertron nor Earth, and it definitely has its own colour palette, amongst other monstrous properties!”
PAGE 1- The rioting Decepticons, as seen in the previous issue, are gone thanks to Metalhawk's efforts. Having introduced the character in the first year of RID, how do you think the character has changed from issue 1 to where we are now?
JOHN BARBER: Metalhawk was away from the action for most of the war. When he came back to Cybertron, back at the start of this series, he didn’t know who was who, who’d done what, or why anybody was acting like they were. He’s definitely learned the lay of the land since then, but he’s still very much an outsider in terms of really understanding the main conflict. He gets it a little more now, but he hasn’t been on the front lines like Bumblebee or the others.
As readers, I think we’ve learned more about him, and what makes him tick, a little more. At first, the idea was that we wouldn’t be able to tell if he was honest or if he had Machiavellian plans going on. Plus, as readers, we’ve been privy to all kinds of details about the Autobot/Decepticon war, and that, combined with Metalhawk’s general demeanor, kinda made him irritating. Now I think we know him a little more—we’ve seen his contradictions and his flaws and he’s a little more human… well, you know what I mean. I know some people don’t trust him yet—fans, I mean—and maybe they’re right.
Whatever the case—he can still be pretty insufferable. But he was able to get most of the population off the streets, when Starscream and Bumblebee’s efforts were fruitless.
PAGE 2- Metalhawk reports in and Prowl’s deception from the previous issue is revealed. Events have been building up to the next few moments. When actually coming to doing the issue, were any pages like this clearly pre-though out or did they just lay themselves in any surprising ways?
JOHN BARBER: Well, everything with Prowl was planned from the outset, and his actions over the course of the series were very deliberate. I mean, everything he did had to map onto what he was pretending to do, and also what he was actually doing. If that makes sense. Like, if Prowl gave an impassioned speech to Bumblebee to keep Bee going, it had to make sense in terms of what the reader thinks Prowl was doing, not just what artist Andrew Griffith (and editor Carlos Guzman) knew he was really doing.
So, in that sense, everything had to be pretty much thought out. In terms of this scene, and the reactions of characters… Blurr is ready to believe the worst—and not without reason—but even Sideswipe has to admit he sees his point. There are little surprises here and there with how characters have grown over the series, and how they react to events. Like, when Bumblebee ordered that the Autobots open fire on Megatron when he returned—that wasn’t in the original outline, I just realized that that was what Bumblebee would do at that point. And Megatron wasn’t counting on that, either, so events had to adjust. Anyway—Andrew just does such a great job making it all sing and acting the reactions of Sideswipe and Blurr and everybody.
PAGE 3- Dirge reveals that Prowl has been working with the recently returned Megatron for quite some time. It’s a question of what to do next. With his world collapsing around him, is the focus still going to be how Bumblebee deals with situations as a leader, even in the most dire of circumstances?
JOHN BARBER: Well, Dirge doesn’t say anything about time, or how long anything’s been going on.
Bumblebee… well, it would be nice if Bumblebee figured out what to do here, yeah.
PAGE 4- Prowl and the Decepticons together, and Megatron requires a new body. How much design work goes into producing these Cybertronian looks for the characters? Are they made with other products in mind?
JOHN BARBER: It’s super-easy for me! I just type their names and say to make them look cool, and boom, there they are!
Seriously, Andrew Griffith knocks himself out on these. He sometimes bases the designs on existing toys or on the video game looks, but always brings a little flair to it. And other times they’re new designs entirely, like Prowl… and you’ll find out why Prowl is like that later this issue.
We don’t really have other products like toys in mind per se, but there’s a lot of back and forth between the comics and the toys, as you might have seen at Toyfair, where Hasbro revealed some new Transformers figures that tie in directly with the comics. It’s all great fun—the guys making the toys are loving what we’re doing; everybody making the comics are loving what they’re doing. It’s a fun time.
PAGE 5- Bumblebee, Metalhawk and others are pondering about the Decepticons next move. This issue marks a huge shift in the series. Has it always been the intention to explore the facets of peace and how they affect a given society?
JOHN BARBER: Um. Yeah, this is a big change. We’ve been looking at how a society tries to stay together, and rebuild after a war. There are always questions of freedom and security and justice looming over everybody. Sometimes imagined threats, or perceived problems, can give room for bigger, real threats and problems to grow. It’s also about a society trying to change… there are always forces from within that want to stop any change from occurring.
PAGE 1: What is it about the character of Scorponok that draws you to him?
SIMON FURMAN: When he first appeared, Scorponok was a fairly die-cut Decepticon (somewhat second-tier) tyrant, but the introduction of Lord Zarak, his binary-bonded Headmaster component, gave him much more in the way of layers and a kind of noble gravitas, and he gradually became a character who walked the same fine line between good and evil as Grimlock (always a pull for me as a writer). But, of course, that Scorponok died in #75. And Zarak was the more dominant in that incarnation. Here/now, I was interested to explore the other side of the equation, see what the original Scorponok was like. This time, he’s the dominant personality, but you don’t share a head with someone for all that time without some kind of evolution. So there’s two reasons for going with Scorponok: one, there are parallels with Grimlock, the other main focus of this second story arc, and two, I get to bring the original Scorponok (who I never wrote) back and watch him struggle against who and what he was versus who he is (or thinks he is) now. Lots of great character potential there to explore, which I love!
PAGE 2: Scorponok comes across the other Decepticons, who may/may not accept him as their leader. How do you approach a scene like this in the writing, getting the tension across from the characters as they decide what to do next?
SIMON FURMAN: The theme underlying the whole “Natural Selection” arc is choice, or rather the enforced withdrawal of choice (and its consequences… which will ripple on well after this arc). And here the Decepticons are presented with just that, a choice: join Scorponok or stay loyal to the absent Soundwave. Scorponok overrides that bit of free will/loyalty pretty brutally, which plays into his more blanket intentions to skew the whole nature of Primus’s creations and push them all in a more Decepticon-oriented direction. But I also wanted to show here that there is loyalty and shades of grey even among Decepticons. They’re not all of one mind. Not all stamped out of the same world-conquering mold. There are factions and differing agendas and varying methodologies.
PAGE 3: While choosing the Cybertron cast, did you have to do a lot of trading with the Earth bound characters or was the process very straightforward?
SIMON FURMAN: Right at the start of RG1 I kind of assigned a non-official sub-group affiliation to the various Decepticons, some of which was predicated by where they were and who they were with when the original series ended with issue #80. So most of those fighting alongside Bludgeon on Klo at the end stayed with Bludgeon. Others I assigned to Soundwave’s neo-Decepticons. The rest I left a little more independent or undecided, like Dreadwind and Darkwing, so in reserve for more general/later use. The Earthbound Decepticons tended to be the older/original characters, whereas those still active on Cybertron the newer ones (in terms of toy release). I also had a list of those Decepticons who demonstrably died in #75 in the battle with Unicron (like Quake, Runabout and Apeface), and I was careful for those characters to stay dead.
PAGE 4: Soundwave meets with Bludgeon and they discuss his plans. Didn’t Soundwave die back issue 86 while trying to access Thunderwing’s remains? What happened to him?
SIMON FURMAN: Ah no, the destruction of the Hall of Silence was designed to mask Soundwave’s exit (via teleporter) with the remains of Thunderwing. Both were just assumed vaporized by the explosion. If you read those Soundwave scenes again, you’ll see he’s waiting for/relying on the more inexperienced Hot Rod to follow protocol and (in the event of a breach) destroy the entire building (and everything/one in it). This way, there’s no pursuit, no suspicion the Thunderwing remains are still out there.
PAGE 5: Soundwave continues to see more of Bludgeon’s grand plans for the future. Was Bludgeon your favorite Pretender back from the original run? Do you find him any more difficult to write than the other Pretender characters?
SIMON FURMAN: Bludgeon was always, and still is, one of my favourite characters. He’s a prime example of there not being much in the way of precedent or character detail originally (in either comics or tech specs), so I was able to embellish and create a lot of his character from the ground up. He’s also, let’s face it, just a really cool looking character with a ninja/warrior vibe and a big sword. What’s not to like. Bludgeon comes back into things in a big way in the third arc. What Bludgeon really wants is… well… not what Soundwave necessarily thinks he wants, and it’s going to result in one of the biggest shocks in RG1. Andrew’s cover for #91 just gave me chills! I think he kind of likes Bludgeon too.
Q: Hi John. Robots in Disguise is almost a year old now. Has everything panned out as smoothly as you had hoped in the story you are telling?
JOHN BARBER: Hi! Well, we’ve stuck pretty close to the original ideas. New things have definitely cropped up, new ideas pop in all the time, but the essential story Andrew Griffith and I set out to tell over the first year or so has gone according to plan. Along the way there’ve been some nice synchronicities, some characters have asserted themselves in ways that either made them bigger characters or that changed the way the story unfolded, but overall, yeah.
Q: You’ve been trying to make sense of some continuity issues that have cropped up. Is this something you really wanted to try in fix from past TF comics?
JOHN BARBER: It’s not really that I set out to fix things as much as sometimes little continuity things suggest interesting stories or directions. Like, with Metalhawk—when More Than Meets The Eye writer James Roberts and I were working on The Death of Optimus Prime, James had come up with the notion of having a character be the de facto leader of the neutral Cybertronians who were returning home. I thought it’d be cool to use an existing Transformers character that we hadn’t seen yet—somebody that would have resonance with some fans, but it wouldn’t be essential that anybody know who he is.
We bounced some ideas between us and Andy Schmidt, who was the editor then, and to Michael Kelly at Hasbro. Eventually, James suggested Metalhawk. A quick internet search showed that Metalhawk had appeared in one panel in the Drift limited series. Or, anyway, somebody that looked an awful lot like Metalhawk was there. Alex Milne had drawn him in as, basically, a random ’bot. Nobody called him Metalhawk, he didn’t do anything particularly important. And it would have been pretty easy to just ignore that. And, honestly—and I know some fans vehemently disagree with what I’m about to say—I think it would have been fair to just write that off as “somebody that looks like Metalhawk” if it got in the way of the story.
But it got me thinking, and I thought it could be kind of cool if that were Metalhawk, and even though he’s only got that one panel in the Drift comic, that battle had actually been a key part of Metalhawk’s life. And that created an opportunity to bring Turmoil (who I think is an awesome character who deserved more of an on-panel life) back and have it mean something personal to somebody that Turmoil was around. So that panel just suggested some depth to the then-just-being-developed-in-current-continuity Metalhawk.
Hopefully, in practice, it doesn’t matter to the RID reader if they ever see that panel, but I think it’s fun that that panel is there. It creates a wider, more coherent tapestry of stories, without being obtrusive or stopping us from moving forward.
Q: After seeing all of the previous TF work, how hard did you find it get into the characters heads and come up with their voices and point of views?
JOHN BARBER: Well, over my life I’ve spent a fair amount of time with these characters—reading the comics, watching the cartoons and movies, playing with the toys when I was young—so I had some thoughts about the characters. There were some that, over the years, had been portrayed in ways that didn’t exactly match up all the way, which is just the reality of what happens when you have an ongoing comic book universe with different writers and artists playing in the same sandbox.
But, again, that was an opportunity. Real people do contradictory things, real people change their approaches over the years. We react differently to different situations. So I tried to use those different reactions and figure out what might make these particular iterations of these guys tick.
I tried to give the characters distinct points of view and voices based on what we’d seen them do over the course of all the IDW-published comics, and also what the sort-of “classic” versions of the characters are. I like using the big characters, and some of them have developed really interesting backstories, but that’s mostly how I view the previous stories, in practical storytelling terms. I mean, not that my stories are better, I just mean that as a writer, you have to focus on the story you’re telling, not a previous story. As a reader, you shouldn’t need to know the details of the character’s lives to follow what they’re doing now, or to enjoy them as characters… but if you do want to know about their life stories—a lot of it’s been published!
Q: Can you say much about your grand plan when you started writing RID? Did you have this time of peace on the re-born Cybertron well plotted out?
JOHN BARBER: Yeah, the big arc of the first year or so, definitely. It’s really about 16 issues that will get you a big climax to the story begun in issue 1. But not an end to the RID saga, I should add. That definitely keeps going!
Like I said, some of it changed a little, but the broad strokes are the same.
There were certain stories I wanted to hit—RID was never meant to be only about the political struggle. I wanted to have a story about somebody coming home trying to fit in on this world; a wilderness story; a story about the city surviving the changed environment of the planet. I feel like we did pretty well hitting those stories and still moving forward with a big, macro story about the power struggle in Iacon.
Q: Have you had to change or adapt how you write the stories, maybe based on something you’ve seen coming up in maybe an issue of More Than Meets the Eye (RID’s sister title)?
JOHN BARBER: We toss ideas back and forth all the time, James and I. So yeah, we’re constantly affecting what each other are doing. We’ve managed to not screw each other up, though, with our stories. If that’s what you mean.
Q: Have you found it difficult to keep a track of events in RID, especially with issues such as the time travelling space ship causing chaos (at least for the characters)?
JOHN BARBER: Yeah… it’s funny. I really intentionally focused in on five key players—Bumblebee, Ironhide, Prowl, Wheeljack, and Starscream—with Metalhawk playing a huge outsider role for most of the series. But as the series went on, a lot of other characters became important, too. So keeping track of where everybody is and where they wind up by issue 16 has been constantly on my mind.
Issue 10, with the time-traveling space-ship… that was it’s own beast. That was hard to keep track of on a totally different level. And I’m happy people came along for that ride.
Q: Is there any one stand-out moment from the first year of RID that you are most proud of over the others?
JOHN BARBER: Yes, but I can’t say what it is yet without giving things away.
Q: A certain character re-appears in issue 11 of RID. Had the return of this character been in your mind right from the very start?
JOHN BARBER: Yes, absolutely. Don’t miss today’s issue! Everything changes here.
Q: Between writing RID and editing the books across the TF license, would you say its one of the most challenging jobs you’ve done in comics?
JOHN BARBER: Sure, yeah. I mean, I edit more than just the Transformers comics, too—I work on G.I. Joe with Carlos Guzman, and on Dungeons & Dragons, and on a few other comics, too. So it’s a lot of good stuff to get to do. There’s definitely a lot of Transformers comics across a lot of timelines, but it’s a good challenge.
Q: Anything you can say about season 2 of RID? Can you say about possible happenings or characters that may reappear?
JOHN BARBER: Two words: purple reign.
News Categories: View All Categories, 3rd Party News, Auctions, Book News, Cartoon News, Collectables, Collector's Club News, Comic Book News, Company News, Contests, Editorials, Event News, Game News, Heavy Metal War, Interviews, Knock Offs, Media, Movie News, People News, Podcast, Press Releases, Reviews, Rumors, Sightings, Site Articles, Site News, Sponsor News, Store News, Toy News, Transtopia