Unicron Puts An End To Transformers
Jun 03, 2018
It is literally a heavy metal meltdown. John Barber is cleaning house at IDW Publishing. A bulldozer with a keyboard, he’s leveling the playing field for the robots in disguise with his new series that kicks off with Transformers: Unicron #1 (MAY180616), with artwork by Alex Milne. The times they are a ‘changing, and John Barber explains in detail how a new page is turned for IDW’s Transformers universe.
Vince Brusio: The cover page for IDW’s section in the May PREVIEWS touts how Transformers: Unicron “marks the end of the Transformers universe as we know it.” That’s a bold statement. The history behind Transformers at IDW is considerable. New characters like Windblade have been introduced. Countless stories have been collected in trade paperback. And now we’re told it can all get wiped out? Can you give us some details on how Unicron is going to live up to such hype?
John Barber: This is going to be the conclusion to the story — and the universe — that IDW launched back with Transformers: Infiltration #0 in 2005. IDW and Hasbro still have plenty more to say with Transformers — don’t misunderstand that! — but for this particular history, it’s all over. Now — whether that history gets wiped out or gets a nice happy ending for everybody? That’s the part that is playing out in the Unicron event.
I’m incredibly proud of the work that’s been done on this universe. Simon Furman and EJ Su started it, and I’ve had a hand in it for over six years, working alongside Transformers greats like James Roberts, Mairghread Scott, Kei Zama, Jack Lawrence, Andrew Griffith, Sara Pitre-Durocher, Livio Ramondelli, Priscilla Tramontano, Brendan Cahill, Guido Guidi, Shane McCarthy, Nick Roche, and so many more. For me, I started writing Transformers: Robots in Disguise back in 2012. I’ve written more Transformers comics than I ever thought possible, and I loved every minute of it. Working on the same set of characters, the same universe, for so long has been the most rewarding creative experience of my life, and one I really doubt that I’ll ever be able to duplicate.
So, for me — and for Unicron artist Alex Milne, who’s been with Transformers longer than me — we both feel that if we’re going to do an ending for this, we’d best make the greatest ending we can.
There’s something really satisfying about having a story with an actual climax. No “The End — Except We’ll See You Next Month!” or “The End — But the Story Continues Over Here.” This will put a cap on this world. Now — the existing books will still be available. The comics from 2005-2018 will be available in collections, and digitally, and however else we figure out to make comics in the future. So, anybody can come in and say, “I want to read all the IDW comics,” or “I want to read Lost Light,” or, “Let me read Optimus Prime,” or any of the books, and they can have an amazing experience. And when they get to the end, it’ll be like the end of Sandman, or Transmetropolitan, or any long-running comic with a deliberate ending. I think that’ll make for a more satisfying reading experience.
Characters like Windblade — who started as a fan-voted toy but who made her debut in fiction in the comics — already have made the leap to animation and other media. So, I’m sure we’ll still be seeing them in future Transformers comics from IDW and Hasbro… but we’re not ready to talk about those plans, yet.
Vince Brusio: Two covers are being rolled out for the beginning of this series. How does the imagery of both foreshadow events or conflicts in the upcoming story?
John Barber: Well, A cover by Alex Milne (colors by Sebastian Cheng) shows some of our big heroes — Optimus Prime, Arcee, Bumblebee, Pyra Magna (of the first all-female combiner, Victorian), Soundwave, and a couple characters who’ve played key roles in our series the last few years — Alieron and The Mistress of Flame. The Mistress is the spiritual leader of one of Cybertron’s colonies, Caminus (which is where Alieron and Pyra both come from). And Unicron’s plan seems to be to eat all of Cybertron’s colonies, carving a path through the galaxy toward Cybertron and Earth. In Unicron #1, the colony of Caminus is in Unicron's crosshairs. So, this cover represents that our heroes have a plan, and some of them will lay their lives down to save the people of Caminus.
Cover B by Andrew Griffith (colors by Thomas Deer) has Optimus holding Unicron on his back. It’s symbolic — Optimus has long been leader of the Transformers, and he’s got the weight of the world on his shoulders… only this time, that world is trying to eat him.
Vince Brusio: An unlettered preview page is featured just below the cover of issue #1 in the May PREVIEWS solicitation. Tell us what we’re seeing on this page. How is it a window into understanding the consequences of this storyline?
John Barber: That’s page one from issue #1. In it, we see the legendary history of the great creator, Primus, and his opposite — Unicron, the Chaos-Bringer. These are characters that run deep in Transformers history — back to the original runs of the comic books and animated series. Over the years, in different media, Primus and Unicron have usually been portrayed as primal cosmic beings locked in an endless struggle. So, here, on this page, we’re seeing the legend — the story Cybertronians have passed down for millions and millions of years.
The thing is, now that Unicron is here, the facts don’t match the legend... so Optimus, Windblade, and Starscream are all asking the question, “How much of this is true and how much was just a bedtime story?"
Vince Brusio: Issue #2 of the series is also featured in the May catalog, which means you’re pretty far ahead on production for this series. How far deep are you into the story, and how many drafts have you attempted before settling on the course you’re plotting?
John Barber: Ooooh, we did a lot of drafts. When we settled on doing Unicron, I got on the phone with James Roberts, Mairghread Scott, Nick Roche, and then-Transformers Editor (and still-good friend) Carlos Guzman, and we talked at length about the possibilities of the story. We had a lot of really good ideas, some of which worked, and some didn’t. We all wanted this to have meaning, and to have this even actually be about something — not just be empty spectacle. If you know the IDW Transformers comics, you know they’re about character first and foremost. We like to tackle big themes and big emotions, and it was important to all of us to keep that foregrounded. Which is a long way of saying that there’ve been a lot of drafts.
We’re about halfway through as I type this, so we’re pretty deep in. We’re double-shipping for the start of the event, but we’re back to regular schedule for the end, in something of an effort to not kill Alex, who is doing the work of his career here. And that is saying a lot!
Vince Brusio: How are you attempting to raise the bar with this series? What new demands are you placing on yourself? Are you approaching this story differently than work you’ve done in the past?
John Barber: There are parts of this that I’ve been thinking about for a really long time, closing out stories I started over 100 issues ago, if you add up all the specials and side-stories. So that has an effect. This is the last time that I’ll write these characters, so I’m becoming really aware of moments like, “That’s the last sarcastic Laserbeak line I’ll write,” or whatever. It’s emotional, to be honest. I’ve lived with these ’bots for as long as I have my kid, almost to the month.
But Alex, colorist Sebastian Cheng, and I (plus Kei and Josh Burcham on Optimus Prime, and James, Jack, and Joana Lafuente on Lost Light) – and all the old friends who’ll be coming back in the next few months — we’re all giving these comics everything we have. We always have. I mean, this stuff means a whole lot to all of us, but we know this has to be the story to end all stories. At least for this one Transformers universe.
Vince Brusio writes about comics, and writes comics. He is the long-serving Editor of PREVIEWSworld.com, the creator of PUSSYCATS, and encourages everyone to keep the faith...and keep reading comics.