SDCC 2019: IDW & Transformers – A Bold New Universe

by Noah Sharma

Last year at San Diego Comic Con, IDW Publishing gathered its finest to discuss the end of their thirteen year Transformers continuity with Transformers: Unicron. Now, twelve months and one reboot later, they assembled another panel to talk about the new Transformers universe for the first time. Panelists included Livio Ramondelli (artist on Robots in Disguise, Optimus Prime, and the Autocracy and Redemption of the Dinobots trilogies), Tyler Bleszinski (Vox media co-founder and recently announced first writer for Transformers: Galaxies), Sam Maggs (Secret Loves of Geek Girls), Michael Kelly (Hasbro VP of global publishing), Brandon Easton (writer of Andre the Giant: Closer to Heaven, IDW’s M.A.S.K., and the upcoming Transformers: War for Cybertron series on Netflix), and Erik Burnham (IDW’s most prolific Ghostbusters writer), with Transformers group editor, David Mariotte, as moderator.

The new Transformers series is double shipping, twice a month, up until issue #12 and Mariotte promises that things will only escalate from there. Some of the most exciting elements of this undertaking has been creating a new Cybertron, in appearance and character. Kelly spoke to the age of the Transformers, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. A big goal for Hasbro and IDW was to allow readers to get to know the characters, including Cybertron itself, which he stressed is a character in its own right. In order to do this, IDW was encouraged to create a new visual and cultural language for pre-war Cybertron, full of advanced technologies and intergalactic visitors.

Cybertron is a big deal, obviously, but, in August, Transformers: Galaxies will explore the other locales in the Cybertronians’ sphere of influence. The first arc, “Constructicons Rising” comes from Bleszinski and Ramondelli, and will explore the titular team. Bleszinski said that the Constructicons always interested him since he was a child, not only because of their position as the first combiner, but because of the duality of their purpose as builders who then become the ultimate destroyer in Devastator. The series explores how the Constructicons became the Decepticons they are and their feelings of isolation. “It wasn’t as simple as robo-smasher back in the day,” said Bleszinski.

The panel showed off a number of covers from Transformers stables like Ramondelli, Nick Roche, Alex Milne, and more, as well as some interior art that strongly suggests that the Enigma of Combination will remain a strong part of making a combiner in this continuity.

But that wasn’t all for Galaxies. We soon got a schedule of creative teams for the rest of the book’s first year. After the four part Constructicon story we’ll see a two issue Cliffjumper story by Kate Leth and Cohen Edenfield. Then Arcee,  Greenlight, and their newly forged mentee get the spotlight in issues #7-9 written by Sam Maggs. Finally the year rounds out with another three issues focused on Ultra Magnus, written by Easton.

Maggs has been a longtime fan and was fascinated by Rubble as the ‘newest transformer’, however that position was quickly taken by a new transformer. This immediately caught Maggs’ attention. “Who is this new Cybertronian, how are they adjusting to this world, what is it like having two moms? What is thatt situation like for that Transformer.” Maggs went on to say “I think it’s something that a lot of us can relate to: being born into a war that is burgeoning or happening and where do you fall. There are probably a lot of people talking to you as a young person telling you what side to take, what to say, who to believe and that process of learning how to make up your own mind is really challenging.”

Maggs also took an immediate liking to the Reversionists, being endlessly obsessed with cults of all stripes. Not much was said about how they would factor into the story, but Mariotte did excitely drop that the leader of the Reversionists is none other than More Than Meets The Eye Warrior Elite Heretech!

Easton is working on Galaxies as well as the Transformers – War For Cybertron series and that’s difficult to juggle, which led him to be slightly tight lipped in order to avoid spoiling either. Easton has always had an interest in Ultra Magnus. From being the voice of Unsolved Mysteries (Robert Stack) to his incredible sense of duty, Magnus appealed to him. Citing Magnus’ reply to the dying Prime “I’m just a soldier, I’m not worthy”, Easton felt it was necessary to look at what drives Ultra Magnus to have that kind of dedication and self-knowledge. Despite the character’s immense loyalty to Optimus Prime, Easton says that he views Magnus as an incredibly powerful character, who could definitely take Optimus in a straight fight. Still, the hardest fight for Magnus is with the times. Magnus is one of the first to notice that Cybertron is changing, and he’s going to have to decide whether to fight that or accept it.

You know what else is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year? Ghostbusters!

Mariotte knew that he wanted the usual Ghostbusters team of Erik Burnham, Dan Shoening, and Luis Antonio Delgado on Transformers/Ghostbusters right away and he was thrilled to see that Burnham was taking to the Cybertronian cast with the same humor and specificity that he sees in the Ghostbusters titles. Burnham needed no hesitation to declare Starscream his favorite transformer to write. He feels that the melodrama of the Transformers, especially Starscream, plays well against the Ghostbuster’s usual deadpan. Transformers/Ghostbusters embraces the weirdness of Generation 1, using it to fit the disparate worlds together.

The series came about because Hasbro wanted to create a Transformer of the Ecto-1 in celebration of the shared anniversary, a toy that became Ectotron. Burnham was asked to create the character and, at first, Ectotron had a looser voice, but eventually he became David Hyde Pierce and you’ll actually be able to see that evolution as you read the series.

Mariotte was sure to mention that a special Masterpiece Ghostbusters Prime is available at the Hasbro booth (3213) and that IDW (2729) has an exclusive cover for Transformers/Ghostbusters #1.

The anniversary celebration also looks back with Transformers ’84. A prequel story from the Regeneration One creative team of Simon Furman, Guido Guidi, and John-Paul Bove to bridge the first The Transformers story and the first Marvel UK story. The art and story are a modernization of the original 1984 style.

There’s also Star Trek vs. Transformers and Transfomers vs. G.I. Joe, which both have exclusives at the IDW booth, a special cover and a special edition signed hardcover.

The Hasbro shared universe may have ended, but it’s not just the Transformers getting in on the reboot action. ROM returns in October with the three issue ROM: Dire Wraiths miniseries from Chris Ryall, Luca Pizzari, Guy Dorian, and Sal Buscma. It’s a big year for anniversaries including the moon landing and, surpise, it turns out that there were Dire Wraiths on the moon! However, Rom was not, so the question is: where is he?

Kelly assured the room that as long as Larry Hama want to write G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero he can. As such he’s launching “Snake Hunt”. The story sees Cobra sending a massive force after being tricked into thinking that the original Snake Eyes is still alive. This draws Snake Eyes’ successor, Dawn into the mix, but she’s hardly the extent of it. G.I. Joe has to send a proportionate response and this story will feature every living Joe.

G.I. Joe relaunches in September with Paul Allor and Chris Evenhuis. The panel promised that this series would take things in a very different direction. With respect to the great stories of the past, Hasbro felt an obligation to continue to innovate with their legacy franchises. Kelly was inspired by real events where Winston Churchill enlisted civilians to go behind enemy lines. “In his time of uncertainty, where there’s so much going on in the world, that it would be great to have heroes who are just like us.”

The panel couldn’t say much, but reminded us that Snake Eyes: Deadgame by Rob Liefeld will land in 2020.

A fan asked how much Easton sees commonality and connection between the two versions of the franchise he’s working on to the degree that he feels comfortable discussing it, leading him to simply answer “no.” Not ‘no, I don’t see any’ but just “no”.

He did go on to promise that it will all make sense when the series drops on Netflix.

One fan dressed as Brainstorm asked whether characters or creators from the previous interation of the IDW Transformers would be brought over to IDW2. The answer was that this continuity was trying to stand on its own, however characters like Froid (and Heretech!) are already present in the world so there will be cross pollenation. Additionally James Roberts is already writing a new miniseries for IDW called Starcadia Quest, based on the CMON Kickstarter board game. There are ashcans at the IDW booth.

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