Lighting Their Darkest Hour

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The Transformers first stormed into the world of comics over 20 years ago, enjoying a 7-year run (8 in the U.K.). 2002 brought the Robots in Disguise back in full force, thanks to Canadian Publisher, Dreamwave Productions. When the company folded 2 years later, Transformers once again disappeared from comic book shops. 

This time however, the Autobots and Decepticons haven’t stayed down nearly as long. When Hasbro licensed Transformers to IDW Publishing, the comic company knew just the man to light the darkest hour for the ‘Bots – Simon Furman. A veteran Transformer writer from Marvel, Marvel U.K. and Dreamwave, Furman has been tapped to write the upcoming Transformers Infiltration (January 2006) series, as well as Transformers: Beast Wars. With the release of the prequel Transformers #0 this week, Furman had some time to stop by the Broken Frontier to talk Transformers.

Broken Frontier - How does the new IDW series relate to previous incarnations of the Transformers?

Simon Furman - Short answer, it doesn't. Given that the Dreamwave material/story content was tied up in bankruptcy proceedings, and the general feeling was that Transformers as a whole had become a little tangled and impenetrable, continuity-wise, IDW was keen to start fresh, with a rebooted G1-style [interviewers note – G1=Generation 1] storyline. I was very much up for this, not only because it would make it far more accessible to new readers, but it also gives us the opportunity to bring everything bang up to date. Transformers was a little stuck in the 80s, and as such was regarded as something of a retro property. I was keen to update, to give it modern day sensibilities and style. As a loose, working model, we looked at the Marvel Ultimate line, keeping the essential core story elements but looking at it very much in the here and now, with human characters you could actually believe in/relate to.

BF - What elements will make the IDW Transformers unique from previous incarnations?

SF - Well, for a start, all (or most) of the vehicle modes are getting a 2005/2006 update (re-imagining). Given that we were going very much for a 'robots in disguise' take on the story, it just didn't make sense to have the Autobots and Decepticons running around in vehicles that either are long out of production or would just look faintly ridiculous in a modern setting.

In this new story, the Transformers have been on Earth for maybe two years, dug in deep, so it makes sense that they'd pick alt. modes that might actually blend in (opting for the latest models, etc). There'll still be a few classic versions, but largely we've updated wherever possible. The other main tack we're taking that's a little different is to keep (at least initially) the Transformers very much as covert beings, so often (again, at least initially) you'll rarely see them in their robot modes. Their approach (to Earth) has changed quite dramatically from previous storylines, their modus operandi far more secretive and patient. We wanted to put the 'wow' factor back into Transformers, so that when we do kick in with the real giant robot action, everyone will go, well, 'wow.'

BF - What can you tell us about the upcoming Beast Wars comic from IDW?

SF - This one is more 'in-continuity,' feeding out of (and in and around) the Beast Wars TV show. A lot of the seeds of this series were sown just before Dreamwave crashed and burned, but of course that proposed series never actually saw the light of day. When IDW wanted to do their own BW mini-series, I extracted the main story strand I'd come up with for the Dreamwave series and re-worked that accordingly (and sometimes extensively). Dreamwave had done this short BW story in their Summer Special, and I'd originally had to work that (and a couple of pre-drawn covers) into the pitch for the series proper. It freed me up a lot being able to lose that extra baggage and concentrate on the core story, which is Magmatron (a Predacon general) going back into time to prehistoric Earth, where the Beast Wars are in-progress, in order to raise an army (and then return to Cybertron and re-take it from the ruling Maximals). Thankfully, Don Figueroa (who was set to draw the DW series) is also back on board for the IDW series. His artwork has just been amazing. Every time I think he can't top something... he does!

BF - The War Within was one of the many projects left unfinished due to Dreamwave's collapse. Is it likely that fans might see a continuation/conclusion this popular vision of the Transformers?

SF - I really hope so. I hate leaving things part-done (and as a reader, I hate things left part-done). I know IDW wants to finish things off too, but exactly when is anyone's guess (these things take an age to move through the courts). If and when it does happen, it'll be strange going back to it, given that my focus is now very much on the IDW-G1 strand I'm developing, but I'm definitely up for doing so. 'Age of Wrath' was, I think, the best of the trio of War Within stories, and to see it complete would be great.  Fingers crossed!

BF - Is there any Transformer that you particularly enjoy writing?

SF - Well, I have a definite leaning towards Grimlock, so much so that there's a bit of a Grimlock-backlash coming from the fans. So, I'm trying to leave him well out of the IDW GI-verse (for the time being at least) and focus on other characters, Ratchet being key to the initial beats of the new G1 book. But, you can't can't keep a good (Dino)'bot down, and I was delighted to discover that there's a Beast Wars Grimlock (the same character in a new body). So, chances are...

BF - In your view, why has the Transformers been such an enduring property?

SF - I think because it can always transform itself, reinvent the characters and settings and storylines for a new generation. The core idea and story are so strong, you can apply them anywhere, anyhow, and you still get that excitement. That's really what we're doing with the IDW comic, transforming Transformers and (hopefully) exciting people all over again.

BF - Death's Head in Marvel's Amazing Fantasy is another property that you'll be rebooting in the near future [beginning in December’s issue #16].  Can you tease Broken Frontier readers with a little of what to expect from this story?

SF - Again, it won't be continuity-laden. This is very much a new Death's Head, one that works within the larger structure Amazing Fantasy is developing for itself (and Marvel in general). Once we've got people interested in this Death's Head, maybe we can broaden things out; explore some of the DH lineage. The new Death's Head is tied into ongoing stuff in the Marvel Universe in other ways too, but this is a decidedly non-superheroic story. If I had to liken it to anything, it'd be a Cronenberg movie, with that whole body horror/science gone awry thing. It's going to be quite dark.

BF - Are there any other projects you have coming up that you would like to mention?

SF - Right now, I'm talking to one of the Marvel (US) editors about another limited series, and in addition to Transformers Infiltration and Beast Wars I'm gearing up for a major summer 'event' storyline, one that'll keep all the diehard fans happy. I'm also developing an animated series and doing the odd TV-animation script. Other stuff too, but it's all too early to go into detail. Right now, it's full on!

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