IDW Publishing is literally rocking the Transformers' homeworld this November with "Transformers: Dark Cybertron" #1, the opening salvo in a 12-issue crossover event between ongoing series "Transformers: Robots in Disguise" and "Transformers: More than Meets the Eye," written by John Barber and James Roberts, respectively.
For the past two years, Rodimus and his crew have been busy exploring the stars in Roberts' "More than Meets the Eye," while Barber's "Robots in Disguise" has followed the political upheaval back on Cybertron that's left former Decipticon Starscream in charge. "Dark Cybertron" #1 is co-written by Barber and Roberts and features art by Phil Jimenez, a man no stranger to big events.
Barber and Roberts recently sat down together to speak with CBR News about "Dark Cybertron," explaining how their respective "Transformers" series have building to this moment for the past two years, what award-winning artist Phil Jimenez is contributing to the project, tease a series launching out of the crossover and much more.
CBR News: John and James, what is "Dark Cybertron?"
John Barber: For you and I, it's a 12-issue event that ties together the ongoing "Transformers: More than Meets the Eye" and "Transformers: Robots in Disguise" series. It starts off with a comic called "Transformers: Dark Cybertron" #1 that's written by James Roberts and me with art by Phil Jimenez and Andrew Griffith (plus a prologue drawn by Brendan Cahill) that comes out in November. The story continues right into "More than Meets the Eye" #23, then into "Robots in Disguise" #23, then "MTMTE" #24, etc!
It brings together the casts of these two Transformers ongoing series -- and they haven't been together in two years, so that's pretty exciting for us.
For the Cybertronians themselves, though: Dark Cybertron is a hidden prophecy -- a story secretly passed down across millions of years, that only a handful of Transformers characters know about -- but that the emotionless Decepticon called Shockwave has found a way to bring about. Basically, he wants to reinstate the so-called Golden Age of Cybertron in a fairly literal way. Unfortunately, the Golden Age wasn't really very Golden. More a Dark Age, I guess you could say.
James Roberts: Sometimes, a crossover is just a label for a story so big that it involves a range of characters from multiple books. With "Dark Cybertron," the fact that these disparate characters are meeting each other again is a story in itself. And that, I think, is what makes it a 'proper' crossover. "More than Meets the Eye" and "Robots in Disguise" have led separate lives for two years, and now they're crashing into each other.
Say you've never read IDW's "Transformers" comics before. What do you need to know to jump right in for "Dark Cybertron?"
Barber: If we do it right -- "Dark Cybertron" #1 will get you what you need to know. But the gist of the background material: after a few million years of constant warfare, the war between Autobots and Decepticons is over. Bumblebee tried to set up a new government on Cybertron, but failed... letting Starscream grab control of the planet and banishing anybody who still has allegiance to the Autobot or Decepticon causes into the wilderness. Meanwhile, Rodimus leads a group of Autobots (well, mostly Autobots) into space to find the ancient and legendary Knights of Cybertron... and they've gotten a little distracted along the way.
Roberts: Yeah, Bumblebee did the responsible thing and stayed on Cybertron to forge a better future, while Rodimus jumped on a spaceship with likeminded adventure-seekers and disappeared. For a long time, Bumblebee's team thought that Rodimus and Co. had been killed. "Dark Cybertron" takes place shortly after Rodimus has re-established contact with Cybertron.
How long have you guys been building towards this epic crossover?
Barber: James, Phil Jimenez and I met at Hasbro a year ago and started hashing out the plot together. But there have been pieces that we started seeding in the books before that -- we knew Shockwave was going to make a big move from the time we launched the ongoings, but it was a year ago we started working out how we'd tell that story -- that's when we started working on the tale in earnest.
Roberts: "Dark Cybertron" can be read and enjoyed without prior knowledge of the "Transformers" Universe, but longtime readers (and new ones, should they choose to invest in the back issues, which of course they should) will discover that certain plot elements were introduced a long time ago -- many of them unobtrusively. And that's what we want, John and I -- for "Dark Cybertron" to be a natural, even inevitable, consequence of what's happened over the last few years.
How is artist Phil Jimenez involved with "Dark Cybertron?"
Barber: Phil was with James and I -- and the "Transformers" brand team, and Hasbro's Director, Global Publishing Michael Kelly -- out at Hasbro headquarters in Rhode Island. Phil's had some really serious experience with big stories, and he was anxious to work on "Transformers." He'd actually pitched a comic that hadn't come together, and we started talking about him working on this.
Roberts: As well as an eye for a good story and a passion for character-driven crossovers, Phil brought a real enthusiasm to the project. It wasn't that John and I were unenthusiastic -- not at all -- but it's easy, when writing the monthly books, to focus on the mechanics of moving the story forward: making sure the pieces on the board are lined up, foreshadowing certain events, ironing out continuity creases, etc. Phil's love of "Transformers" ensured that none of us lost sight of the ultimate aim of "Dark Cybertron:" it had to be big, and fun, and memorable, with massive set pieces that would engage your head and your heart.
Barber: Art-wise, he went on to do breakdowns for the first issue -- James and I plotted the issue "Marvel-style," just the plot with no dialog or panel breakdowns, and Phil broke it into panels. Then Andrew Griffith came in and worked his magic and did the finished art. The resulting mix is fantastic. Phil's an amazing storyteller, and Andrew knows the characters inside and out and is a brilliant actor with his art -- he really gets into the subtext of the characters actions with the way he draws them. The finished art is an outstanding blend of the two artists.
On top of that, Phil's doing character-specific subscription-only covers for the whole series, which ties in to the work he's doing with Hasbro on the "Generations" toy line.
What's the tension like between the Autobots and the Decepticons at the moment?
Barber: "Robots in Disguise" has been about that tension -- the story of the first 16 issues was Bumblebee trying to set up a government, dealing with the captured Decepticons from the end of the war. In the story, Megatron showed up -- he'd been missing somewhere on Cybertron -- and got the Decepticons to come back and try to take over the planet. Megatron failed, but the brief flare-up was enough to convince the civilians that these guys wouldn't be putting away their animosities any time soon. That gave Starscream the opportunity to seize control and kick both factions out.
Roberts: "More than Meets the Eye" has an all-Autobot cast, with the exception of Cyclonus, who is non-affiliated (though that doesn't stop everyone presuming he's a Decepticon). While on their quest Rodimus and his crew have had run-ins with rogue pockets of Decepticons, but for them -- away from Cybertron -- the war really has faded into the background. They live dangerous, hectic lives, and they've got a rapidly expanding rogues' gallery of their own, but the Decepticon threat isn't an ongoing concern anymore. Everyone is just relieved that the war's over.
Barber: So, at the start of "Dark Cybertron," the Autobots and Decepticons on Cybertron are both in the wilderness. They could just start shooting again, but nobody really has it in them at this point -- both sides are sort of feeling like they've lost, and lost in such a way that they can't really recover.
And neither side knows what Shockwave is up to -- Soundwave (who's leading the Decepticons) considers Shockwave a traitor to the cause, and Bumblebee knows he's bad news, but neither know what he's up to. Will they side with each other against Shockwave, or will the Decepticons see Shockwave as a chance to reestablish their superiority?
What does Cybertron look like with Starscream in charge? What real-world leaders would you compare him to?'
Barber: Starscream's got what he's always wanted -- he's got the planet under his thumb. But what he has to deal with now is... well, he's the leader when something really, really bad starts to happen.
At this point, Shockwave having a master plan that he's been working on for millions of years is the last thing Starscream wants to deal with. But when he has to... well, I don't think even Starscream knows what he'll do. Does he take the responsibility that comes with the power, or does he leave it to other people?
As to what real leaders -- I don't know, I think he's an idealized version of everything wrong with politics. He's all ambition and no ideology. He's the nightmare version of a politician, just out for power for its own sake. So, well, pick your own favorite politician you think is no good.
Tell us more about the ancient Titans that will be appearing in "Dark Cybertron." Who built them? What's their purpose?
Barber: The Titans are Cybertronians, just big ones, so nobody built them, exactly. They're life forms, but metal ones.
Roberts: We introduced them last year in a pseudo-crossover event -- the "Robots in Disguise" and "More than Meets the Eye" annuals were linked by a Titan traveling from deep space to Cybertron.
Barber: Legend has it that they were the contemporaries of the Knights of Cybertron, his followers in extremely ancient times, and they left Cybertron long ago, long before the Golden Age, to carry the Knights across the universe.
They have spacebridges within them, so they can traverse vast distances instantaneously, which can be useful in a big, galactic war.
Will any books be launching out of the aftermath of "Dark Cybertron?"
Barber: The two ongoings will continue -- "More than Meets the Eye" and "Robots in Disguise" -- I mean, not to give anything away. If any characters survive, the two ongoings will continue. And 2014 is the 30th anniversary of "Transformers," so we'd be remiss if we didn't have some big plans. There's going to be at least one new book coming out of the crossover, but I can't say more yet.
How much further down the line do you have "Robots in Disguise" and "More than Meets the Eye" planned out?
Barber: Well, both books will be rocked by the ramifications of "Dark Cybertron." So coming out of the crossover, there will be significant changes.
Roberts: Huge changes.
Barber: I know James has massive long-term plans, and so do I. I think it's fair to say we both have long games in mind, but at least for myself I'm excited about where "Robots in Disguise" will be, and where it'll be heading. We're both definitely looking out at everything having long-term stakes.
Roberts: "Dark Cybertron" isn't just an interruption to the status quo -- 12 issues of mayhem before everything is reset. No, what happens at the climax of the story changes the direction of travel for both books. And that's good -- that keeps things fresh and different. There is definitely a pre-"Dark Cybertron" Transformers Universe and a post-"Dark Cybertron" Transformers Universe.
As John says, I have many future issues of "More than Meets the Eye" mapped out, with some slow-burning storylines potentially taking years to unfold.
What's special about these books -- and about IDW's Transformers Universe -- is that they keep moving forward. I'm sure that two years ago, when we announced that the Autobot/Decepticon war was coming to an end, people thought that within a few months hostilities would resume. And it would have been easy to do that. But here we are, heading into 2014, and we've not slipped back into that old pattern. We haven't reached for the re-set button. For that reason, when we do an 'event' book, readers can have confidence that there will be meaningful and lasting 'in universe' repercussions.
Finally, will Megatron rear his head at all during the course of "Dark Cybertron?"
"Dark Cybertron" begins in "Transformers: Dark Cybertron" #1, on sale November 6 from IDW Publishing, and continues monthly from there in "Robots in Disguise" and "More than Meets the Eye."