The motto for Transformers has always been "more than meets the eye," and this week's Transformers #50 promises to take that to a new level as Optimus Prime will be annexing Earth.
IDW looks to be setting up a major change to the status quo of its Transformers line, as longtime series writer John Barber and artist Andrew Griffith begins the "All Hail Optimus" arc.
But the battle lines are more than just Autobots vs. Decepticons, as different factions emerge against Optimus, Galvatron and Starscream... and that's not even including the humans of Earth, which as you can imagine might have issues with Optimus Prime annexing Earth.
On the eve of Transformers #50's debut Newsarama talked with Barber about this eye-opening change to the Hasbro/IDW series' status-quo.
Newsarama: John, on Wednesday, IDW will release Transformers #50. You’re an editor and a writer – what does a milestone like a fiftieth issue call for from a book?
John Barber: Well, just to clarify, I’m not the editor of this series, that’s Carlos Guzman, who’s been the editor for Andrew Griffith and I since issue one, and who’s immeasurably helped the series.
It’s pretty rare to get to #50 with the same creative team you had for issue one (I mean, other people have drawn stories, and done an amazing job, but Andrew and I have been around the whole time). I think it’s worth doing a big story for the big numbers. I think it should pay off for long-time readers, and should be intriguing for new readers—that’s the big thing for me, hitting both groups.
Nrama: And for the case of this, you’re having Optimus Prime forcibly declare Earth as his dominion as part of the Cybertronian Council of Worlds. Optimus has his reasons, and he looks to be more a protector than a ruler, but this new story arc title “All Hail Optimus” is what many characters might be fearing. What can you say without spoiling #50?
Barber: At the start of the series, Galvatron is poised to wreak havoc on the Earth with an army of disaffected Decepticons. This isn’t the first time the Earth’s been in this dangerous position—among other things, Earth’s useful to the Transformers because it has this substance called Ore-13 which can be converted to energon, their lifeblood. Optimus has tried battling on Earth to defend it; he’s tried leaving Earth behind to keep it out of the Cybertronian’s war. Neither of those really worked. So now, he’s looking at Earth and seeing the Decepticons striking again, and he’s seeing there are people starving on Earth and people being disenfranchised in many ways.
And Optimus’ motto has always been, “Freedom is the right of all sentient beings.” It’s pointed out to him that he could act to make the people of Earth more free… and free from this eons-long Cybertronian war, that—while it’s technically over—is still endangering the planet.
So he decides to annex Earth into Cybertron’s council of worlds. Whether Earth wants to come or not; and whether the council wants Earth or not. He’s going to pull Earth into the cosmic community and try to improve life on the planet.
So, yeah—a lot of his friends see this as… not a good move. I think all of his enemies see this as bad. But Optimus has loyal allies, plus followers who view him as a messianic figure for being a Prime, and carrying (what’s left of) the Matrix of Leadership. Optimus has been unwilling to use that good will to his advantage… until now.
Nrama: IDW released a preview of this issue a few days ago, and the Camiens say Primes have a history of stepping up to protect other races like Optimus Prime is here, according to legend. Can you talk about that?
Barber: The Camiens—they’re one of several long-lost colonies of Cybertron—very much see the Primes as larger-than-life, greater-than-normal Cybertronians. They venerate the original 13 Primes—and their actions. Others, like Galvatron, see the Primes as terrible despots claiming unearned power—power he wants for himself. The truth was probably somewhere in between.
Nrama: Who would you say the key players in this chessboard, so to speak, of Transformers right now?
John Barber: Optimus Prime has his team—Arcee, Jazz, Sky Lynx, Kup, Victorion, Superion and others. They’re siding with Optimus in his efforts to bring the Earth into the universe at large.
On Earth, Galvatron and Soundwave had been trying to re-form the Decepticons. They’d made a deal with the governments of Earth (secretly) that they’d stay out of the human’s hair and live on Sanctuary Station near Jupiter. Soundwave genuinely went into this with the best of intentions, but he didn’t realize Galvatron is a… well, he’s just a monster who was looking for an excuse to start conquering the galaxy.
On Cybertron, Starscream is the more-or-less democratically-elected leader. I mean, he was sort of elected by loudest applause, but he’s popularly in charge, and he’s helping form the Council of Worlds out of the long-lost colony worlds that have turned up. Windblade is vying for control of the Council—she’s Optimus’ friend, but Optimus’ actions might change that. Starscream definitely will not agree with these actions. They’ll have a lot of interaction with the cast of Transformers, but we’ll be seeing more of them in Mairghread Scott and Sara Pitre-Durocher’s Transformers: Till All Are One.
Then, of course, we have Megatron and Rodimus and the crew of the Lost Light, whose adventures are chronicles by James Roberts and Alex Milne over in Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye. They’ll have a reaction, I’m sure—but as you’ll see in MTMTE #50 in a couple weeks, they have their hands full at the moment.
Nrama: And Soundwave looks to be breaking away from Galvatron and forging a new path. What’s he doing?
Barber: Soundwave and Galvatron were working together, but Soundwave is kinda a good-guy Decepticon. At their root, the Decepticons were about fighting against a corrupt government that was segregating its citizens. Things went crazy and Decepticons killed billions of life forms over the course of 4 million years of war, but Soundwave sees that as a moral compromise for a greater good. I mean, he surely regrets a lot of what happened, but he still believes in the core value of equality.
Galvatron is from an older era—he’s like a barbarian that entered modern society. Soundwave believed Galvatron when he agreed to help, but Soundwave didn’t understand Galvatron’s history. Galvatron basically invented racism on Cybertron; he’s not a good guy. His goals definitely do not align with Soundwave’s. That’s all come to a head as Transformers #50 starts. Soundwave doesn’t want this invasion by Galvatron to happen any more than Optimus Prime does—but Optimus still represents this corrupt lineage of power to Soundwave, and Soundwave also doesn’t want Optimus to invade the Earth. So there’s no love lost, there.
Nrama: And there’s also the human side of things: Earth Defense Command, with Faireborn, the ex-Decepticon Thundercracker, and more. What are they thinking as this situation unfolds?
Barber: Yeah—we can’t forget the humans. I mean—that’s really the immediate thrust of the story: what do humans say when Optimus Prime says “your planet is now part of a Council of Worlds under my authority and, by the way, you’re not running your planet right, so I’m going to fix things.”
The Earth Defense Command is the first line of defense—their director, Marissa Faireborn, has been after Optimus and crew for the past couple years. One of their allies—sort of—is ex-Decepticon Thundercracker, who’s writing terrible screenplays and children’s books, and has a dog named Buster that he loves. Thundercracker just wants the war behind him, but Faireborn and the E.D.C. don’t have that option.
In Transformers #50, we’ll meet the Chinese response to the E.D.C. (who screwed up a mission in China last year). And we’ll meet the President, and she’s not happy about the Optimus Situation, either.
The Earth’s response to this event is going to be big and… well, bigger. It’s not going to be a comfortable situation.
Nrama: This issue looks to be all about fighting, but in a tender moment in the preview Faireborn revealed she has a soft spot for Thundercracker. Would you say there’s more to that story coming up?
Barber: There’s a lot of action, yeah. I always saw Faireborn as being the Jack Donaghy to Thundercracker’s Liz Lemon from 30Rock. She is constantly frustrated by him, but likes him deep down. Their friendship—or mentorship or whatever it is—will certainly be strained by the end of #50. Things won’t be in the same place as the beginning of #50.
Nrama: Last question -- Transformers #50 looks to be extra-sized. Overall, what should fans expect?
Barber: There’s a 30-page story by me and Andrew, then Casey W. Coller drew a 10-pager that deals with the fallout. Plus some rambling reminisces by me. And some nice special guest covers, by Jonathan Hickman and Mike Choi and our regular gang of Transformers superstars like Andrew Griffith, Casey W. Coller, and Alex Milne.