This week, IDW Publishing released Transformers: Deviations, which re-visited the Transformers: The Movie storyline and asked, essentially, “what if?” In this case, one small change begets an entirely different trajectory for the Autobots, Decepticons, and the ominous planet-eating Unicron. How does it all start? Optimus Prime kills Megatron.
This isn’t fan-fiction; nor is it a subversion of who Optimus Prime is. While we’ll leave it to the Transformers: Deivations issue itself, available now, to show how it unfolds. But with such a huge, to borrow the term, “deviation,” Newsarama wanted to know why, and how.
Writer Brandon Easton, who just finished co-writing ABC’s Agent Carter, talked to Newsarama about the decisions he and IDW made in this revisiting of tdhe classic 1986 movie, and how he could find a way to put Optimus Prime behind the trigger of a deadly shot while staying true to who the character is in this book that's on sale now.
Newsarama: Brandon, you made some bold choices with Transformers Deviations, especially with the first big divergence of Optimus Prime killing Megatron. Was that baked into the story when IDW approached you, or did you decide that would be the pivot point?
Brandon Easton: After Transformerseditor John Barber and I discussed the project, I came up with a few interesting scenarios regarding an alternate-universe spin out of the events of Transformers: the Movie and Optimus' survival was the one we both gravitated toward. In retrospect, that story was a no-brainer, as the massive G1 fan community still looks at the events of that film as the central point of the Transformers mythology. Even now, that movie resonates deeply with G1 fans and as someone who saw the movie the day it was released back in 1986 I still remember how I felt when Optimus died. It made perfect sense to explore that alternate timeline.
Nrama: And how did you come around to find a way that Optimus would kill Megatron while staying true to his character?
Easton: Prime values all life, even Decepticon lives, and he would try to find every possible alternative to killing someone until he had absolutely no other choice. I wanted it to be a situation where Optimus was pushed to the limit and would end Megatron only after barely dodging a kill shot from his enemy. After Megatron's death, Prime is clearly affected by his actions. I didn't want him to come off as bloodthirsty and the silhouetted panel with him standing over Megatron's body was pretty clear about that.
Nrama: That moment when Optimus Prime kills Megatron. It's felt by the Autobots there, and also by the Decepticons aboard Astrotrain when they find out. Put it into words -- why is it so shocking for them?
Easton: The Cybertronian War has gone on for millions and millions of years. Autobots vs Decepticons. Optimus Prime vs Megatron. To their armies, the war felt eternal. It has been an unspoken thing that if either Megatron or Optimus dies, then the morale of both armies may suffer greatly. Both leaders are the heart and soul of their forces and to know that Megatron has finally been destroyed has to be a massive blow to the Decepticons. It's a major turning point.
Nrama: Were there any concerns by you or IDW about going "too far" with the deviation, but in this inciting moment and after? If so, tell us about that.
Easton: I was well-aware of how far we could go in terms of violence and character behaviors. As long as I stayed within the boundaries of what was seen onscreen in Transformers: the Movie, I knew I would create material appropriate for readers and fans of all ages. Whenever you tell an "elseworlds" or alternate universe tale, you need a clear - and shocking - moment to hook the reader in. Without the shock change at the beginning of the story, there's nothing else compelling enough to emotionally engage the audience.
Nrama: With Starscream taking control, he goes to Unicron and gets the upgrade that Megatron got in the movie to Galvatron. Starscream becomes Megascream. Can you tell us what you were aiming for in this upgrade, in characters, powers and what you were asking from Priscilla visually?
Easton: The F-15 fighter version of Starscream was outdated even by late 1980s standards in terms of being a top-of-the-line war plane. Since the Transformers resurgence of the late 1990s, Starscream's design has been updated several times across different animated series and comic books. If Starscream was going to be updated, then I'd want him to have more of a modern anime mecha design. He needs to be a super futuristic Cybertronian seeker with increased powers. I wanted Starscream to look deadlier and more advanced than ever. Him carrying Megatron's fusion cannon was the icing on the cake and a big insult to Megatron's memory.
Nrama: This is only one issue, yet you fit into the Sharkticons, Quintessons, and Kup's iconic words "Bah Weep Granagh Weep NiNi Bong." But yet the Junkions didn't make it. I understand only so much could fit, but how'd you boil down to figure out what would -- and wouldn't -- to benefit the story?
Easton: I had a tough task of hitting the emotional bookmarks of the original movie as well as major character changes. Any time you do an alternate universe story, you have to satisfy several beats: 1) nostalgic expectations, 2) new visions of the world that doesn't disrupt feelings of nostalgia, 3) logical character turns that make sense within the new continuity and 4) making the new situation dangerous, exciting but fun. If you go too far you stop making sense, but if you play it safe, it invalidates the very notion of a "deviation." I tried to strike a good balance of all those elements and I hope the audience enjoys what we've come up with.
Nrama: You wrote this just as you joined the Agent Carter writer's room, so you have some A+ Marvel cred. So, let's compare planet-eaters -- Unicron to Galactus. Do you think was inspired by the other, and regardless, how would you compare them?
Easton: Ah, that's apples and oranges. I've always felt Unicron was closer to the Death Star than Galactus. Unicron "eats" planets in the same sense, but there's an entirely different vibe between the two - at least in my mind. There's a slight visual nod to Galactus, but Unicron seems like what would happen if the Death Star was made into a Transformer.
Nrama: With this issue on stands now, are there more ideas for Deviations stories, specifically in the Transformers franchise? If so, can you tease us with some?
Easton: There are multiple concepts for possible Deviations development, but I have stronger ideas for a potential comic book series set in G1 cartoon continuity. I've always felt that there's a huge opportunity to fill the gap between the end of season two of the animated series (which would be around 1987) and the beginning of Transformers: the Movie (which takes place in 2005). So much must have occurred in that time span and there's tremendous potential for universe-building and great battle sequences! I know there's considerable interest in a G1-era comic book series so here's hoping it happens someday.