For a series concerning a future ruled by robots, the Terminator series real origin is in the year 1984. That’s when the first film came out, and the time period it was set. A robot assassin is sent back to the Reagan-era to kill the mother of the man who is leading a rebellion against the robots in the year 2029. Another man, Kyle Reese, is sent back to stop this digital destroyer, one that happens to look like a certain California governor.
After a string of successful movies and a television series, the new Dark Horse comic series Terminator: 1984 takes a second look at this franchise’s founding. Set as a sequel to last year’s series Terminator: 2029, this four-issue series set to debut on Sept. 29th is not a revamp or retelling – but more an elaboration and a continuation of the events in the classic film that started it all.
In Terminator: 2029, writer Zack Whedon and artist Andy MacDonald introduced a new member of the human resistance of 2029: Ben, a friend of Kyle Reese who in this new series is sent to 1984 for a crucial mission of his own. In this new series, Whedon & MacDonald take on the time after the first Terminator film but far before the second, and they’re sparing no detail to get it right, for both Terminator fans and people who lived through 1984.
Newsarama: This series is going back to where it all began – 1984, the setting of James Cameron's original Terminator feature film. What's it like to be tasked with writing this, and taking it in this new direction?
Zack Whedon: It is complicated and daunting and a lot of fun. It's very exciting to look at that movie and then create another layer of action that is going on simultaneously but has up until now been unseen. I love the feel of that first movie and hope that we have captured some of that feel in issue one. In addition to being a wonderful movie, the first Terminator film is a great document of 80s Los Angeles. I tried to keep that up in the comic.Andy MacDonald: With Ben traveling back in time we get a more intimate look into the world of 1984 Los Angeles. The movie has a good amount of visual cues that I have used to re-create 1984, but this is Ben's story and his encounters are going to be new and specific to him. I have the opportunity to fill the environment with as many 1984-specific elements as I can get my hands on without drawing too much focus away from Ben and his mission. It's been a tremendous experience thus far, fighting my urge to NOT draw padded shoulders and legwarmers on everyone.
After the events in Terminator 2029, people should enjoy where we take Ben and how integral he becomes in relation to the events of the feature film. It's very exciting to have been part of this character's genesis into this new chapter in the Sarah Connor/Kyle Reese/Terminator saga.
Nrama: People might cry foul at this different version of Kyle Reese's 1984 mission, but if you think about it – time is changing... and Reese going back in time is changing the future, which changes the past. Is that what's going on?
Whedon: Hopefully people won't cry foul too much. I was very careful not to mess with the first movie too much. Rather than a different version of events this is more a different perspective on them. It is a step back, revealing something else that was going on during that story... in a way.
Nrama: How does this story differ from the original movie?
Whedon: You get to see what transpired after the conclusion of the first film.
Nrama: In this iteration, Kyle's not alone – you introduced a new character, Ben, who you created in Terminator: 2029. For people coming to this with only seeing the movies, how does Ben factor into Kyle's mission back through time?
Whedon: Ben is one of Kyle's best friends in the future. In Terminator 2029 Ben encountered an old man who turned out to be Kyle. The man informed Ben that he had been sent through time to protect Sarah and while there had been captured and held captive since then. Ben is going back to help his friend Kyle but also to make some changes to the future. In Terminator 2029 the love of Ben's life, Paige, was killed by a Terminator. Ben would like to stop the war entirely but at the very least he is going to try save his girlfriend.
Nrama: We've done all this talk and I haven't asked you about the central character in this – Sarah Conner. With all the story in the previous Terminator movies, what's it like to come back to this younger version and flesh her out?
Whedon: One of the many things that I loved about Terminator 2 is the introduction of Sarah Connor. We haven't seen her for years and when we do she is completely different. She went from a sweet, frightened waitress to a desperate, violent, hardcore lady. That jump in character was extremely exciting. What I get to do a tiny bit in these comics is bridge that gap somewhat. We get to see her transitioning from one person to the other. It's very fun to do.
Nrama: Andy, when you got the gig to do this series, were there any particular characters or concepts you worked on to make sure you had down pat before you started drawing the pages?
MacDonald: For the 1984 series, the main thing was to get a look for Sarah Connor down. Sarah's a little more hard-boiled than the downtrodden waitress she was before all this business with killer cyborgs from the future started. Not the rigid crazy women who threatens to pump psychiatrists full of industrial cleaner just yet, but a little more resolute than before. She still has some youthful optimism left showing, so her look had to reflect that.
There are also a few nasties in this story that we needed to get a look down for. Zack had a pretty clear idea of where to start with one of these guys in particular so that was pretty quickly nailed down. The script did the a lot of the work for me, fleshing these guys out almost immediately in my mind. Terrible, vicious nasties of the sort you love to hate!
Nrama: There's a certain appeal to writing stories set in the future – any chance for a return to the 21st century with you and the Terminator franchise?
Whedon: I think with this run my time in the Terminator Universe will be complete but who knows. I do love the world and have had an amazing time writing these comics. Maybe?
Nrama: How many times would you say you've watched the Terminator movies at this point? One more than the others?
Whedon: I've seen the first two countless times now; the latter two not as much. I think the first is my favorite but Terminator 2 is near perfect also.
Whedon: I've watched the first one far more than the others. Enough to also wonder what happened to Sarah Connor's scooter. All the hope and optimism crushed by a horrific future filled with genocidal cyborgs it imbued had to go somewhere, no?
Nrama: Although this is about the future invading the past, you two have a past together working on the previous Terminator series, 2029. What’s it like to be able to get the band back together and go back to square one – the year 1984?
MacDonald: Zack's a champion! It's great to re-team with him in Terminator: 1984. He probably didn't expect me to bring the suit jackets with shoulder pads and legwarmers, but here we are. I dig his appreciation for subtle elements in the story that build up characters and scenes here and there. It gives special impact to Ben's running this gauntlet and the decisions he makes doing it.
Whedon: Andy has done an incredible job with this comic. He's really great at making all those post-apocalyptic landscapes feel real. It has been fun to watch him now work with 1984 Los Angeles as the background and to see his style applied to the gritty, seedy streets of downtown L.A.
MacDonald: Going back to the original setting means constant viewing of the first Terminator. Collecting as much visual reference as possible and wondering whatever really happened to Sarah Connor's iguana, Pugsly. Whatever it was that happened to him, I'm sure he somehow expected more when he moved to L.A..
Nrama: Once you're finished writing this, how do we get James Cameron to reshoot the original Terminator movie?
MacDonald: I think that this one is really for Zack, and honestly he's probably in a much better position to make this happen than me. Not because he's actually IN the film and television biz, but geographically. He lives in L.A. and I'm all the way east in Brooklyn. Now, I don't know much about LA, but I'm sure there can't be THAT many people there, so Zack and James (I call him James now apparently) are most likely neighbors. Neighbors do things for each other: borrow a cup of sugar, reshoot classic films, etc. It's the neighborly thing to do.
Whedon: Do we want him too? It's so good as is. There's some blue screen work that leaves something to be desired but other than that I think that movie is perfect. One could remake it I suppose but they'd be best served by not changing a word of the script and that never happens; too much opportunity for disaster. I say leave it be... or get McG to do it.Are you ready for more killer robots?