Set in the early days of the Transformers, IDW Publishing's "Transformers: Monstrosity" is a sequel to last year's hit "Autocracy," which saw a civil war erupt on Cybertron resulting in Optimus Prime gaining control of the Autobots. "Monstrosity" keeps "Autocracy's" popular creative team of writers Flint Dille and Chris Metzen again paired with artist Livio Ramondelli.
Like "Autocracy," IDW is publishing "Monstrosity" as a digital-first comic, with the first six chapters already available on comiXology. The first print edition of "Monstrosity," collecting four digital chapters, hits store shelves this June.
Dille, who wrote for the original "Transformers" animated series and co-wrote video game "Diablo III," and Ramondelli chatted with Comic Book Resources about the dark times waiting ahead for the Transformers in "Monstrosity." Dille also explained why he dislikes the Dinobots, his thoughts on digital comics and much more.
CBR News: Livio and Flint, what's the gist of "Monstrosity?"
Livio Ramondelli: To me, "Monstrosity" feels very much like a more global story that chronicles where the entire race of Transformers are heading. We follow a lot of different factions in this story, and see the further dissolution of Cybertron from the inside out.
Flint Dille: It's an 'after the war' story. The thing that's interesting is that after the cheering is over, everybody starts asking, 'what's next,' 'what did we win,' 'what did we lose?' The winners have as much trouble consolidating their victory as the losers have absorbing their defeat. But the world moves on.
Everything about this feels like a trilogy and this is "The Two Towers" or "The Empire Strikes Back." The thing I'm finding the most fun is what's going on with the Decepticons. Everybody has their particular interest.
Is this a direct sequel to last year's "Transformers: Autocracy?"
Ramondelli: It's definitely a direct sequel. We don't say how much time has passed between the two, but if you see Megatron's condition in #1, you know it isn't too long after he faced Optimus Prime at the end of Autocracy.
Dille: Agree. Direct sequel.
What was your inspiration for "Monstrosity?"
Ramondelli: We became really excited by Megatron going on this "Heart of Darkness" or dark odyssey-style journey. The idea of a betrayed and broken leader crossing this hellish alien world to reclaim his throne was a very exciting notion. And then contrasting that to his counterpart, Optimus Prime, having to deal with an equally dangerous political arc as he tries to reunite a divided world.
Dille: Exactly. Everybody meets their nemesis.
What does the title "Monstrosity" refer to?
Ramondelli: It has a variety of meanings, both literally in terms of the more monstrous characters we're featuring, as well as some of the monstrous acts and motivations behind the characters. Chris phrased it quite well: "Monstrosity" is the story of a man becoming a monster (Megatron), and a monster becoming a man (Grimlock). I think that sums up the essence of what we were going for. But by the end of the series, I think readers will really understand what the title refers to.
Dille: Not to mention that we try to use every monstrous Transformer in the lineup.
Flint, how did your writing partnership with "Monstrosity" co-writer Chris Metzen originate and what's your process like?
Dille: It started in the dark, sinister world of Sanctuary. The world where "Diablo" takes place. It was forged in The Burning Hells and finally made it to the Heavens and the Soul Forge. Somewhere around the time we were in Caldeum (sinister city in the west, but a jewel), Chris had an idea for a trip to Cybertron.
Next thing we knew, we were talking to IDW and we were off and running with the Autobots and Decepticons.
"Diablo III" morphed into "Transformers" and I don't think Chris and I missed a beat.
Why did you decide to make "Monstrosity" and "Autocracy" digital-first releases?
Dille: The idea was to embrace the new. Right now, there's not that much that distinguishes digital comics, and I'm sure there will be the usual set of clumsy experiments in trying to translate the medium, but I think the future of comics is definitely [tablet] and mobile for a lot of reasons. It will be easier to get them (though I had a lot of hassles and have a slight aversion to buying comics digitally and will until it's effortless) -- the 'embarrassment factor' is over. Some people don't like to be publicly seen reading comics. Their inner geek stays inner. They look great on [tablets.] The colors pop. You can blow them up.
Right now, I'm a little disappointed that we aren't doing as much as we can to take advantage of the digital medium as we could, but it's coming.
How did digital sales of "Autocracy" stack up against the print edition?
Dille: I have no idea. We've never seen sales figures.
Ramondelli: I think the fact that we were asked if we wanted to do a sequel before the first series even finished was a good sign that IDW and Hasbro were happy with it. And that makes us happy!
Both of these series have been set in the distant past of the "Transformers" saga. How hard do you try to adhere to established continuity?
Dille: I'm not sure that continuity is really the issue; I think it is 'expression.' My feeling is that more often than not, continuity is a hindrance more than a help -- especially when it locks things out. I'm more and more a fan of a subjective universe where continuity is the agreed upon hallucination of a tribe. With robots, it's interesting because, in theory, they could have absolute total objective/subjective recall. All of their thoughts, inputs, etc. be recorded and correlated, but we've never gone this way with Transformers.
Livio, you are no stranger to the Transformers at this point. Do you have any special techniques or references when drawing these giant robots? Do you enjoy drawing people or robots more?
Ramondelli: Well, I always cite Ridley Scott as a huge visual influence. The sort of textured, atmospheric worlds he creates are so evocative, that I really try to incorporate some of that into my work. I love doing big environmental shots, and I take (steal) as much from Sir Ridley as I possibly can. The main thing I do in my art is try to make these feel like gigantic, ancient beings. I want them to feel a bit weathered and gritty, and give their world a lived-in quality. I've been wanting to draw these characters since I was a kid, so I really just try to draw them with all the reality I was projecting onto them when watching the original series all those years ago.
And I think I'm better at robots or armored characters than I am at people, not that I have anything against people. They're good for scale!
Where do the Dinobots fit into the Decepticon/Autobot war in "Monstrosity?"
Ramondelli: The Dinobots are sort of an unaligned faction with their own goals. And so they're almost equally dangerous to both the Autobots and the Decepticons. They definitely have a reason for their actions, but it's a bit of a mystery that unravels over the series.
Dille: I have to be honest. Of all the elements of this project, the Dinobots (I kind of like the retro Dynobots misspelling, seems kind of '50's) are the thing that I'm least fascinated by. There is something missing in my Dinobot DNA. A comics run a while back that I missed, or maybe "Beast Wars." I can't get past them being these stupid "Three Stooges" characters from the show. We used them for comic relief and though I've pretty well unhinged myself from G1, that's the thing that is hardest to do. So I kind of resist the Dinobots and am out of step with them.
By the way, the great thing about working with Chris and Livio is that they do not feel this way at all. While I would have the Dinobots talking like Larry, Curly and Moe (if you don't get the cultural reference, watch some "Three Stooges" on YouTube. It is essential for cultural literacy), but fortunately, Grimlock and the boys have more responsible curators than me.
With Megatron out of the picture for the time being, what is the relationship between rival would-be Decepticon leaders Starscream and Scorponok going to be like?
Ramondelli: Certainly Starscream is his usual cunning self, but Scorponok represents something that even Megatron didn't -- the notion of this truly unstable and volatile leader. And so it's an interesting dynamic to see how Starscream (and the Decepticons in general) react to him. Scorponok declares himself leader of the Decepticons, but doing that doesn't quite unify the ranks as it did with Megatron.
Dille: Now this exists at the opposite side of the 'interest-o-meter' for me from the Dinobots. I love Megatron's Road of Trials on Junkion, the garbage pit of the universe and mentorship from Pentius the Dark Quintesson and his impending duke out with Scorponok. Loving it so much that I want to extend it. It is a great contrast of evil leadership. Scorponok is a psycho. He was willing to detonate the Toraxxis refinery to make a point. Megatron, on the other hand, was rational. He was effective before, but now, with his infusion of Pentius, he is a wise evil leader.
I think we all know that he will ultimately prevail, but the battle should be fun to watch. And the consequences of it will resonate all the way to G1 a million years in the future.
Does Optimus Prime still face trials ahead until he's accepted as the undisputed leader of the Autobots? Was just getting the Matrix of Leadership enough?
Ramondelli: I love how Chris and Flint handle Prime in this story. He's very self-assured, but the world around him is questioning and testing him. There are plenty who follow him, but there's a large number who don't trust him even though he carries the matrix.
Dille: Thanks. Getting Prime there was the goal of "Autocracy." But just because you have yourself together doesn't mean that the rest of the world is together or much cares that you are together. That's the fight prime has to fight from here on out.
Are there any other time periods of "Transformers" lore you guys would like to explore?
Ramondelli: For me, I think this is the juiciest because the war is such an iconic part of the mythology. It features most every major character really colliding against one another, and it's very rich ground to mine creatively. It's been a dream come true illustrating some of these huge moments in "Transformers'" backstory.
But having said that, you're also locked in slightly because certain characters can't really be killed or altered too much. And so if I could focus on another area, it might be fun to go either very far back in time or to some side group of characters where you can really add some tension in not knowing what happens to them. James Roberts does this beautifully in his stories.
What comes next after "Monstrosity?"
Ramondelli: I think it's safe to say the three of us would love to do another project together. But it's too soon for us to reveal anything more than that...
Dille: Let's be honest, this feels trilogy.
What other projects do you guys have coming up?
Ramondelli: I'm going to be doing "Star Wars" covers for Dark Horse Comics, which I'm really excited about. That's my other favorite fictional world!
Dille: In comics? Not really much. "Agent 13" is on its way.
Flint, you said earlier that people aren't taking advantage of the digital medium as much as they could. What other ideas did you have in mind to take advantage of digital?
Dille: Nothing that complex. I'm not advocating motion comics or anything like that. But just do the thought experiment of what happens when we no longer have to deal with the limitations on paper? How much are we doing that is a legacy of printing? Are we compromising the digital product by trying to deliver it in a way that is print-friendly later on? Do we have to think in terms of panels anymore and how to squeeze them into a comic page? Are we really still allergic to ads? I know they went out of style somewhere in the '80's. Can we revisit that? I used to love the 101 Soldiers ads in my comics. Can't we have another revenue stream? How about making it really easy for me to buy other books in the series, from links inside the book. (In general, I've just found it difficult to buy and read comics on my iPad and phone.)
How about thinking of the book I'm reading as a hub of fan, news, comic activity, rather than a book. I understand that it's not the pristine experience that some imagine they're having, but in our case, we're "Transformers." It is a property created to be a 22-minute commercial. How about links to character bios? I can't tell the characters apart half the time. Basically, the idea would be that once you start reading the comic, you are immersing yourself in a "Transformers" world (or a larger comic world). A single book is a rabbit hole to a much larger experience. Let's say I like a character. Maybe I can buy that figure straight from the comic, or a couple swipes away. Of course, if I don't want to do anything but read the book, I can do that, too. I think we need to think of ourselves as something more than a slightly glorified PDF.
"Transformers: Monstrosity" #1 comes out in print this June from IDW Publishing. The first six chapters of the digital version of "Monstrosity" are available now on comiXology.