Optimus Prime and the Autobots have always had a peaceful relationship with the people of Earth -- but in 2016 that's going to change.
In a new arc kicking off with February's Transformers #50, Optimus Prime is annexing Earth to be a part of Cybertron's Council of Worlds. Humanity is up in arms, not to mention the Decepticons, in this arc titled "All Hail Optimus."
Announced just before IDW Publishing's New York Comic-Con Panel "IDW & Top Shelf: Best Panel Of All Time", the creators of Transformers talked with Newsarama about this shocking event, from what it means to where it goes for the Robots in Disguise and the humans like you and I.
Newsarama: John, Andrew -- what can you tell readers about Transformers #50?
John Barber: Transformers #50 is the biggest thing we’ve done. It’s called "All Hail Optimus," and Optimus Prime annexes planet Earth to become to become part of Cybertron’s Council of Worlds—he takes control of Earth to protect it from invasion. Meanwhile, Optimus has thousands of Cybertronian followers who view him as the “True Prime”—they see him as having a power above any elected office, above any “normal” being—and now Optimus is using the power they’ve handed to him. And he’s using it for good—at least as far as he sees it. Not everybody agrees with him.
It’s a powerful move on Optimus Prime’s part, and one that there’s no moving back from. The humans know the Cybertronians are there, are among them, and the people of Earth are forced to become part of a cosmic community.
Andrew and I started working together about… six years ago? And we’ve never stopped. Most of that time’s been on this Transformers series, and this storyline brings together everything we’ve started. It’s amazing to get to work on something so big, and get to collaborate with somebody for so long. It’s been a long, great trip—and it’s about to get even better!
Andrew Griffith: Yeah, what's great to me about getting to this point is that while a landmark issue like #50 is usually a climax of a story, in our case it's the start of a new storyline that also serves as natural culmination of events that have been building in both Transformers and Windblade.
And I also see it as a bit of a landmark in my time working with John. So hard to believe we and colorist Josh Perez have made it to #50 as the core creative team along with Livio, Casey, Brendan, Guido, Sara and all of the other contributors to the series. Quite a feat in today's comics industry. And the same can be said of Transformers.
Nrama: For those that haven't been reading Transformers, there's been quite the power shift in the ranks of the robots in disguise. Can you lay down the various factions and who's in charge?
Barber: Well, at the start of "All Hail Optimus," we’ve got Galvatron and Soundwave leading the Decepticons. They’re sort of fractured—Soundwave genuinely wants peace, and he’s working with the people of Earth to create a colony near Jupiter where Decepticons can live out their lives. Galvatron, though—he just wants to conquer.
Meanwhile, Starscream is effectively the elected leader of Cybertron, and with Windblade is forming a Council of Worlds—Cybertron and all the long-lost colony worlds that have started to return home. He doesn’t like the idea of Optimus going out and bringing in new planets.
Optimus Prime has led a team of Autobots to Earth, but he took a sojourn to Cybertron—and while he was away, his team got ambushed by the humans. Arcee’s taken command, but as we stand now, their future remains in extreme jeopardy.
Meanwhile, Optimus helped fend off a coup by his former friend, Prowl—and then Prowl went missing. But Optimus has remained on Cybertron, and has been talking with the colonists who’ve arrived—many of them view him as something bigger than life. And Optimus doesn’t like that.
Griffith: It's nice that in IDW's current continuity, we can have one ongoing featuring Megatron, and another ongoing featuring Galvatron. That's really something unique in Transformers history. But more importantly, for all intents and purposes the Cybertronian war between the Autobots and Decepticons has been over for several years in real world terms. And due to the stories John and James and Mairghread have been writing we've managed to keep conflicts going in our books and still have a substantial amount of action without having to return to the same old war that has always been a part of Transformers.
Nrama: OK, tell us more about Optimus Prime's reasoning for making Earth part of the Council of Worlds.
Barber: That’s a lot of what the story is about, but the short version is: he sees it as his only option in preventing Earth from being consumed—again, and this time with extreme consequences—by the Cybertronians' war. He’s believed in the past that keeping Earth out of picture was the best way to go about protecting the planet, but the events of recent issues have made him reconsider this.
Nrama: Who's on Optimus' side in all this?
Barber: The team of Autobots on Earth—at least the ones who’ve survived to #50—are all with him, plus a new character named Aileron—she comes from Caminus and is amazing to be around this world of Primes and of grand cosmic events. Victorion—the new female Combiner we introduced this summer will be playing a big role. Is she on his side? That’s a complex answer. Sunstreaker will play a role, and so will the ancient Alpha Trion.
But his biggest supporters are the Colonists who’ve arrived on Cybertron, who’ve lived their whole lives thinking Primes were a myth—and now here they are standing on the same ground as one. And many are willing to do whatever he says—which isn’t something Optimus Prime has been comfortable with in the past.
Griffith: It's always nice to be able to draw familiar favorites like Optimus Prime, Sideswipe and Arcee. But it's even better sometimes to get to work with new characters to our book like Sunstreaker and Victorion. I know Josh and myself are particularly excited to get to help establish new characters like Aerlion, Victorion and the Torchbearers. I'm really happy that our cast can consist of childhood favorites like Optimus Prime while also embracing the newest and most diverse of characters to join the continuity.
Now the important question is: We have Sunstreaker coming up. What about Bob?
Nrama: So who's opposing Optimus?
Barber: Everybody on Earth. And Galvatron. And Soundwave. And Starscream. And the Council of Worlds. And probably anybody else you can think of. Not a lot people see this as being in their best interest—though some humans realize why Optimus does what he does.
Griffith: Sounds like we'll still have plenty of that conflict and action I was talking about earlier to look forward to.
Nrama: And why would Earth being part of the Council of Worlds be a bad thing, from its detractors' point of view?
Barber: Well, I don’t think it’s a bad thing, and Optimus doesn’t think it’s a bad thing… but the humans have been burned bad by the Transformers before, so when a giant Cybertronian says “here’s what you’re gonna do, trust me—it’s for the best” maybe not everybody is eager to believe.
Griffith: Indeed, when you look back at even just "All Hail Megatron" and consider the way the Decepticons decimated entire cities and brought down governments while terrorizing the entire world, it's hard to believe that all of humanity would embrace Cybertonian leadership with open arms.
Nrama: Are humans represented in this? If so, by who?
Barber: Absolutely. On the human side is the Earth Defense Command, with its director Marisa Faireborne, and all of its agents and mecha. Linked to them is Garrison Blackrock, who runs a wide-ranging technology company called Onyx, who has a bead on Cybertronian tech and who’s been supplying the E.D.C. with gear. And he also insists he’s the descendant of Gilgamesh. Finally—Spike Witwicky—sorry, fan favorite Spike Witwicky—who ran the predecessor of the E.D.C. and is currently a criminal in custody of the E.D.C.
We’ll also meet a Chinese pilot with an extraordinary vehicle—he’ll be playing a role on the human side. And we’ll meet the U.S. President!
Griffith: I know a lot of people complain about too many humans, which is understandable considering they come to a Transformers book looking for giant robot action. But personally I think the human element can be a great foil for our Cybertonian friends while providing a familiar, relatable perspective for the reader. And besides, as an artist it provides a new challenge and breaks up the occasional monotony that comes with drawing the same robots over and over.
Nrama: Andrew, what does this new storyline offer for you that's new and fun to draw?
Griffith: Well, getting to draw Victorion is definitely a new challenge. Other than Devastator, I haven't gotten to draw much in terms of Combiners since "Dark Cybertron" so that's an exciting bit of casting. Personally, drawing large differences in size and getting across the epic scale of some of the largest Transformers are some of the most enjoyable aspects of working on Transformers. Some of my most favorite things to draw also include the people, so getting to introduce political structures around the world and to introduce this new Chinese pilot are great opportunities. World-building can be a really fun and challenging aspect of storytelling.
Nrama: John, I noticed Jonathan Hickman is listed as doing a cover. Can you talk about Hickman's involvement in the title and at IDW?
Barber: I’ve known Jonathan Hickman since he started writing comics, and he’s great—I love his writing, but I also love his drawing and his design sense. I talked to him at Comic-Con International: San Diego last summer, and he’d been doing some variant covers, and I asked if he’d do one for Transformers, and he said yes!
That’s all there really is to it, but years ago, I did make him listen to my Transformers plans in a bar. He’s probably blocked that memory out.
Griffith: Jonathan Hickman's doing a cover for our book? How rad is that? Can't wait to see it!