SDCC 2018: Transformers – Hasbro And IDW End A Universe And Launch A Franchise
by Noah Sharma
It was a big day for Transformers at San Diego Comic Con. David Mariotte, Associate Editor IDW; John Barber, IDW Editor-in-Chief and writer; Michael Kelly, Hasbro Director of Publishing; artists Livio Ramondelli and Fico Ossio; Mike Johnson, co-writer of Transformers/Star Trek, Magdalene Visaggio, the writer of Transformers vs. Visionaries; David Hedgecock, Associate Publisher for IDW; and Tom Waltz, editor of the G.I Joe line assembled to discuss the end of the IDW Hasbroverse at Transformers: Unicron and Beyond.
Unicron is not only an event for IDW, but a capstone to thirteen years of comics. In a world where comics tend to quietly fade away into cancellation, ending a universe this way is rare and special. John Barber spoke about plotting out the rest of The Transformers and Optimus Prime, figuring out “The Falling” and all the preceding events and arcs around the time of “Combiner Wars”. He realized that this was the end of his story and, when, James Roberts agreed that he also had an ending in mind around the same point in the narrative, they agreed to take the universe out with a bang.
Despite the sheer scale of the story, Barber was firm that Transformers stories, especially IDW’s Transformers stories, have to be about people and Unicron is no exception. Barber and Marriotte praised Alex Milne’s art and attention to detail. During ROM: Space Knight, Milne objected to a space station that appeared during half of one issue. Barber said that the station was small, with a crew of 50 or so people, but Milne determined that this was impossible after mapping the work shifts required. He’s bringing the same attention to Unicron, really delving into the flora, fauna, and atmosphere of the monster planet.
As a culmination of the brand, the Unicron variant covers will feature a ‘best of’ approach, bringing in beloved artists from the line’s history, including E.J. Su, James Raiz, Andrew Griffith, and Fico Ossio closing the universe in Unicron #6. They’ll also all contain a back-up story from the Hasbro-verse, including a Visionaries story by Maggs and Fico in issue #5.
Kelly says that Unicron was the first time in his tenure that he really had arguments about where a story should go, just because of the investment that everyone had in the universe. Eventually, Barber and co. convinced him to accept their ideas, and he says that we’ll all be better off for it.
Optimus Prime #22 will be the bridge between “The Falling” and Unicron #0 and will feature kick off a brief tour of past artists, with Sara Pitre-Durocher. Issue #23 is called “The Last Empire” and follows the colonists on earth with art by Priscilla Tramontano. 24 brings everyone back together with art by Andrew Griffith and #25 is the big finale, with Kei Zama to round things out.
Ossio really enjoyed redesigning the Visionaries cast for a new millennium. Vissagio also had a blast, but bemoaned the mustache twirling, evil-for-evil’s-sake villains of the 1980s. Instead she savored turning the cartoon into a Shakespearean drama.
Bumblebee is also very much in the spotlight right now ahead of his solo-movie this December. In addition to the prequel miniseries from Barber and Griffith, IDW is publishing their first original Transformers graphic novel, Transformers: Bumblebee. The book will be an all-ages title written by James Asmus with art by Nicoletta Baldari, Marcelo Ferreira, and Valentina Pinto. It sees Bumblebee protecting a small town from Decepticon threats with the help of some new friends.
John Barber and Mike Johnson are co-writing Star Trek vs. Transformers, a mash-up of the G1 cartoon and Star Trek: The Animated Series. Marriotte said that a huge part of the foundation for the book was looking at Optimus Prime through the lens of Star Trek’s Prime Directive. Optimus may be a hero, but he’s decidedly not good about non-interference. The book goes back years, with Johnson fighting to get it made at every step of the way. Waltz begs readers to buy five copies of each so he can make more, offering a slew of variant covers to entice us.
G.I. Joe: A Real American hero has been doing “Special Missions”, one-shot character-driven stories, for the past five issues. Larry Hama and a slate of guest artists have drawn down on IDW’s hundredth issue of Real American Hero. The upcoming “Cobra’s Venom” arc each feature a “toys in action” variants as retailer incentives, trying to capture the imagination of playing with the classic toys. Waltz also introduced the new Silent Option mini-series. The series will run for four issues and focus on a new team, including both Snake Eyes, and introduce Agent Helix into ARAH continuity. Larry Hama and Netho Diaz are the creative team.
As the panel wound to a close, many stuck around for another side of Transformers, the toys. Hasbro sent a crack team including Ben Montano, marketing; Sonal Majmudar, marketing; Michael Kelly, publishing; John Fraiser, marketing; Matt Clark, “story mastermind”; John Warden, design; Michael Houser, Hasbro Studios; Sean Carmine Isabella, design; and Bumblebee, talking Transformers mask to talk about the new toys.
The panel pushed the new #JoinTheBuzz hashtag to promote the upcoming Bumblebee film. There’s plenty of merch, Razor scooters, jackets, and tee-shirts, all coming soon, and even a new mobile game, Transfomers: Bumblebee – Overdrive, a classic arcade shoot ‘em up coming this fall.
The Bumblebee toyline will feature three takes on Bumblebee in the Energon Igniters line, as DJ Bumblebee, and Power Charge Bumblebee. The Energon Igniters seem to take a page from the power masters line, using energon engines to activate rolling and transforming action and coming in a variety of sizes. DJ Bumblebee, features dancing movement and sounds and Power Charge Bumblebee can be ‘charged’ with a roller ball in his chest for lights and weapons.
In the spirit of the movie, Hasbro is bringing back the 80s with an exclusive deal with Wal-Mart. This fall, a handful of original G1 toys will be rereleased in their original packaging, including Hot Rod, Starscream, a handful of minibots, and the Constructicons. Target will also feature the music themed Bumblebee’s Greatest Hits line, including the Bumblebee Showcase Helmet and a G1-inspired redeco of Titans Returns Soundwave with an exclusive Titan Master, DOOMBOX!
But Bumblebee’s not the only focus, Hasbro is continuing the Generations line with the War for Cybertron trilogy to follow the Prime Wars trilogy. The first section is Siege. Matt Clark spoke about the intent of the line, reestablishing a story largely in line with IDW’s universe, with revolutionary Decepticons and a corrupt government. Siege is promised to be gritty and brutal.
A dramatic commercial demonstrated the line’s focus on high quality G1 inspired designs and customization with the return of Micro Masters and the Target Masters as Battle Masters. Battle Masters will use a 3mm system and convert into weapons and armor for larger bots. Micro Masters combine into weapons and the panel stressed the classic nature of the designs.
Sideswipe is getting a deluxe figure that looks particularly nice. The focus seems to be on making figures articulated, giving them classic but exciting Cybertronian modes with clean detailing, and a battle damaged deco in robot mode. Deluxe class Cog will be able to split into weapons to outfit other bots and allowing collectors to complete their Fortress Maximus.
The panel announced Deluxe-class Ironhide and Chromia together (cute!). The Cybertronian modes have all been designed to feel in keeping with the designs seen in More Than Meets the Eye Part 1 back in 1984.
Optimus Prime will be getting a new Voyager-class toy with a transforming ax that is promised to be one of the best articulated figures to represent G1 Prime. However, Ultra Magnus is getting a brand new Leader-class figure that replicates his G1 Powered Convoy armor.
The Studio series continues with figures from Transformers: Age of Extinction and Bumblebee in the Deluxe line and a 2007 Ironhide and the tattooed Revenge of the Fallen Starscream.
The panel then debuted the slick, stylized opening for Transformers: Cyberverse. The show breaks tradition by having a writer’s room, leading to a particularly tight story for the show according to Houser. The first season sees Windblade trying to help an amnesiac Bumblebee and will feature over ninety different bots, including some that haven’t been on screens in a long time. There will also be some new characters including the villainous Shadow Striker, a Decepticon sniper.
We even got to see a clip from the show, showing Megatron rallying the populous of Cybertron, with Optimus Prime and Ratchet standing with him as Decepticons. Megatron’s voice is very much in the style of Frank Welker’s Prime and G1 performances, continuing the emphasis on the past.
The new Cyberverse figures utilize new transformation features, auto-deploying weapons and attacks. This will be present in all size classes, now including scout, one-step, warrior, ultra, and ultimate size classes. Warrior-class Shockwave even has a new alternate mode!
The panel also announced the results of the Transformers Hall of Fame results, with Beast Wars Blackarachnia beating out Unicron and Omega Supreme for best character and Roadtrap and Battleslash defeating Power of the Primes Optimus Prime and Studio Series Blackout as toy of the year. They also inducted John Barber as the latest human contributor to enter the Hall of Fame.