Even as IDW Publishing takes its own line of "Transformers" comics in a bold new direction with the two ongoing series "More than Meets the Eye" and "Robots in Disguise," the publisher is also looking to the Hasbro property's history. Beginning with a Free Comic Book Day issue, IDW resurrects the "Transformers" continuity that began in 1984 at Marvel Comics with the creative team responsible for the series' most enduring run. "Transformers" #80.5 by writer Simon Furman and artist Andrew Wildman picks up where the title left off, and July's #81 begins moving the epic of Cybertron towards a cataclysmic finale in "Transformers" #100.
Comic Book Resources spoke with Furman, who wrote the final 24 issues of the Marvel series in addition to original material for the concurrent UK "Transformers" magazines, about returning to the series after twenty years and his plans moving forward.
Furman's run on "Transformers" at Marvel is considered by many a landmark in the property's early history, moving the war between Autobots and Decepticons into a grander, more universal context and introducing more sophisticated story elements. The writer later worked on incarnations of "Transformers" at both Dreamwave and IDW, though both companies jettisoned the original Marvel comic book continuity in favor of a fresh beginning. The writer described his return to his original cast and universe as "surprisingly exciting." "Surprisingly, because I don't like going backwards creatively. I'd always rather be forging onwards with new/different stories/ideas/concepts," Furman told CBR News. "But in this case, it's always felt like unfinished business. Sure, we wrapped things up to a degree back in 1991, but a whole lot never got addressed. So this is our chance to do it again. And knowing we're building to a definite conclusion is liberating, because it means you can commit fearlessly to the character and story arcs, and make every issue count and mean something. If we kill someone off in this series, they're liable to stay dead. A rarity in comic books these days! It's also a pleasure and a privilege to be working with Andrew [Wildman] and Stephen [Baskerville, inker] again, on the series that kind of kick-started all our careers."
Thinking back to his original run, which started with the UK series before he took over the American comic as well, Furman said his approach to the Robots in Disguise always kept characterization and a respect for his audience as the driving force. "Even way back in the day, there was never any question in my mind of either treating the robots just as robots -- they were characters, first and foremost, and getting readers to care about them and what happened to them was paramount to me -- or writing down to the kids who'd be reading the comic," he said. "Traditionally, UK action/adventure comics have always been a little grittier than their US (age bracket) counterparts, and the 'TF' stories I wrote originally made no concession to age in either their content or 'sophistication.' Readers really responded to that. And it's what kept me interested as writer and what possibly made the 'TF' comics so long-lived and successful (and certainly what I brought to the US series when I took over on that)."
Given that twenty years have passed since "Transformers" #80's release, not all of today's readers may be familiar with the classic series, although IDW has released several trade paperback collections since acquiring the license. Furman gave CBR a quick rundown of where things stood at the end of Marvel's series, and where they pick up in IDW's upcoming Free Comic Book Day issue, "Transformers" #80.5.
"In the run-up to #80, Cybertron (the Transformers' homeworld) is apparently tearing itself apart in the aftermath of the cataclysmic battle against Unicron. Optimus Prime is dead, a casualty of that battle, and a mass exodus is underway. But a group of human superhumans (the Neo-Knights) and HiQ (a Nebulan scientist who was the binary-bonded partner of 'Powermaster' Optimus Prime) uncover the truth by uncovering (literally) an ancient Transformer known only as the Last Autobot," Furman said. "Cybertron -- it transpires -- is actually re-making itself, having been bathed in Matrix energy. Optimus Prime returns from the dead, courtesy of HiQ and the Last Autobot, in time to defeat Bludgeon and his Decepticons, and Fortress Maximus neutralizes the threat of Galvatron on Earth. Now, at last, the Transformers can go home.
"But, as I mentioned, there are a lot of loose ends that never got picked up," Furman continued. "What happened to Megatron, Ratchet, Shockwave and Starscream after the Ark crash-landed on Earth? Was Galvatron destroyed? Did Grimlock ever restore his ability to transform, or is he still stuck in Action Master form? What about the original heads of the Headmasters, still on Nebulos? After the heat of battle abated, what was Optimus Prime's reaction to his wrenching 'back from the dead' moment? We're now aiming to answer all those questions and a whole lot more besides."
Furman described the series' return at IDW as both following on from the previous issue's events while also jumping ahead in time, a seeming contradiction that works because of the Transformers' distinct perspective and circumstances. "The action continues directly on, but 21 years have passed. On Cybertron, not a lot has happened. The planet is at peace for the first time in millions of years. That's not to say there hasn't been unrest and discontent (on both sides!) but nothing really significant has happened there. Then, in issue #80.5, it does. I can say no more," Furman explained. "But though nothing significant has happened in those 21 years on Cybertron, a span of time that's a drop in the ocean for beings who've lived for millions of years, a whole LOT has happened on Earth and elsewhere. And the consequences will have truly terrifying and enduring repercussions."
The Marvel series began in G1 continuity, but over the course of 80 issues absorbed quite a lot of Transformers lines and evolved the characters in a particular way -- "End of the Road" featured a number of non-Cybertronian allies and villains, and introduced some not-insignificant changes to Optimus Prime himself. Asked whether, in reintroducing the series, he might need to temporarily narrow his focus for accessibility's sake or gradually revisit any essential information as needed, Furman said, "It's not in my nature to scale back or parcel out." "Issue #80.5 will serve both to recap a whole lot of past story (hopefully in a new and interesting/intriguing way) and set the new stuff in motion. But after that, it's full throttle into the new story, with shocks, revelations and action you won't believe," he said. "I intend to waste no time pulling all the big players centre stage, and kicking off the big arcs that will propel the book towards its conclusion in issue #100. There are three big, BIG storylines in issue #81 alone, all of which will re-shape the Regeneration One universe."
As to what the story of the Free Comic Book Day issue and the arc beginning in July's #81 might entail, Furman said only, "Can't say more without spoiling the fun." "But you can expect Soundwave, Ultra Magnus, Wreckers, Kup, Hot Rod, Circuit Smasher, Nebulos, Grimlock, Headmasters, Zero Space, Nova Point, Bludgeon, War-Worlds, G.B. Blackrock, Ratchet, Starscream, and the Optimus Prime vs. Megatron battle to end all Optimus Prime vs. Megatron battles. And that's a promise."
Furman has also said that one member of that long list, Ultra Magnus, is a character he would have liked to spend more time with in his previous run. In light of this, CBR asked the writer what his take on the character looks like and what role Ultra Magnus would play in the tales coming up. "With a lot of people losing their heads (or regaining them in some cases), Magnus is the calm eye of the storm, holding things together," Furman said. "He's somewhere between the UK comic Ultra Magnus and his IDW incarnation. A warrior at heart, but struggling to show more by example than might. He's going to be 'tested,' especially when he and Galvatron bump heads, that's all I'll say for now."
Also on board for the "Transformers" return are the rest of the old Marvel team, artist Andrew Wildman and inker Stephen Baskerville. Furman and Wildman have collaborated extensively since that series ended, and Furman told CBR they "work together with an ease that's scary." "In the intervening years we've worked together on many different comics, on animated TV shows and even our own IP development company Wildfur," Furman said. "But I think both of us were a little concerned about recreating that particular creative synergy we had on G1 (that expired 21 years ago). We needn't have worried. The pages are great, and it feels like the old magic of our partnership on 'Transformers' is back with vengeance. I try and give Andrew just enough in a script without compromising his immense capacity for page and panel design. Every single page comes back with stuff that makes me go 'wow,' even though I think I know what to expect."
When "Transformers" #1 debuted in 1984, it bore the legend "#1 in a Four Issue Limited Series" above the logo; when the series wrapped up seven years later, the final issue carried the cheeky tag line, "#80 in a Four Issue Limited Series." Asked whether issue #80.5 or #81 might carry the joke forward, Furman could not say for certain. "I'm sure we'll be bringing lots of nods and winks to the old series to the new," he said. "Myself, Andrew, Stephen and editor John Barber all have the same wish: to create something that's old and new at the same time; familiar and surprising, retro and right up to the minute."
"Transformers" #80.5 debuts on Free Comic Book Day -- May 5, 2012.