In 2014, artist Sarah Stone and writer Mairghread Scott brought a brand new character to life in the Transformers comics, through the Transformers: Windblade miniseries. Its four issues saw Windblade, an idealistic and pacifistic woman, try to help the planet of Cybertron with the aid of her fellow robot from Caminus, Chromia. At the same time, the tyrant king Starscream threatened Windblade and her friends. By the end of the miniseries, Windblade’s life and relationships have changed even more drastically since she left, and revelations have left her unable to trust everyone in her life.
Now, Windblade is back, and both Mairghread Scott and Senior Editor of IDW Publishing, John Barber, have answered some burning questions for what Combiner Wars means for both her and the rest of the Transformers universe.
If you were to pitch the story to a new reader that hasn’t had the fortune of reading prior IDW Transformers comics, what is Combiner Wars and why should you be reading the current Transformers stories?
Mairghread Scott: Combiner Wars is about a world on the verge of imperial takeover. Cybertron has recently discovered one of a series of long lost colony worlds (this is where Windblade comes from), and they’re reaching out to them once more. But with the rise of the combiners, Cybertron (and more accurately Starscream) has military power no one’s ever seen before. He could easily turn these colonies into conquered worlds, creating a vast empire even Megatron never imagined.
John Barber: If you’ve never read Transformers, you probably wouldn’t guess what the IDW Transformers books are like. I mean, there’s a lot of action, yeah—and Combiner Wars definitely has some serious fighting—but a lot more personal interactions and political machinations go on than somebody might expect. I think word of mouth has spread about what we’re doing in these books, and hopefully something like Combiner Wars will give new readers a good place to take a look at this universe.
Who are your art partners for Combiner Wars? Specifically, line artists, inkers, colorists, and letterers.
MS: We have a very unique team here at IDW in that our artists, Sarah Stone and Livio Ramondelli, each handle their entire process. They pencil, ink, and color themselves. I think that’s what gives their work such unique looks. Livio has these dramatic, moody panels that really convey how epic our battles are. Sarah’s art is extremely expressive and is crucial to pulling off the subtle emotions we need for our more dramatic moments. Our talking scenes are as intense and important as our fighting scenes, so these two pair really well together.
JB: Yeah, one of the things that was exciting about Sarah and Livio is how they’re both very heavy in the digital world of making art, but the art they make is so different. Both of them ooze with personality. Their art, I mean. I don’t think either of them actually ooze. Tom Long, who’s lettering the books, him I’m not so sure about his ooze-status… Tom’s the regular letterer on More Than Meets the Eye and Transformers, so if you’ve seen those comics, you know he’s great. And Carlos Guzman is our editor, and he’s invaluable to the whole process. He’s been there through this whole thing’s gestation. As have, while we’re rattling off names, Michael Kelly, Sarah Carroll, and Mark Weber (and the whole Transformers brand team) over at Hasbro. For the past year or so, the relationship and the interconnectedness between us has gotten even better, which I think shows in some of the things we’ve brought to the page in the comics, things you maybe wouldn’t expect to see in a regular licensed comic.
Regarding Combiner Wars and the series in general, of the four combiners established in the mythos thus far (Monstructor, Devastator, Menasor, and Superion) two of them are getting toys for certain. Are there any combiners that haven’t been utilized previously in IDW who also aren’t getting represented in the toyline that you’d like to use or are planning on using?
MS: We’re not only bringing in one or two more combiners you know, we’re adding a brand new Combiner that hasn’t been revealed yet. We really tried to push not just who these Combiners were, but what they could do. Why just stand there and punch each other when you can break apart and reform on the fly? It’s really pushed me as a writer to think about all the ways we can highlight the uniqueness of our characters—to push the amazing things Transformers can do.
JB: We can’t really talk about the plans for the toys, that’s Hasbro’s announcements. But I’ve been amazed to see how Mairghread’s handled the Combiner action. Mairghread, you write really great action scenes, in addition to everything else.
Should we be watching the Protectobot team very carefully? They’re quite famous for combining into Defensor in prior iterations of Generation 1, but they’re all on the Lost Light in More Than Meets the Eye—far away from the events of Combiner Wars taking place in Windblade Returns and The Transformers ongoing.
MS: Once Caminus is within reach, all bets are off on where we can and can’t go, so I’d keep an eye on them.
JB: Early on, it became clear that MTMTE was going to be hip-deep in it’s own storyline when we got into Combiner Wars. And the actual story is so, so inherently tied with the ongoing story of the formerly-called-Robots-In-Disguise Transformers series, and with the seeds planted in Windblade. One of the things that came out of the last big crossover, Dark Cybertron, was that the Lost Light is in communication with Cybertron. Like, they’re not in a position where they can call for back-up or whatever, but they’re not so far away that they’re totally unreachable. That was by design, so… yeah, watch for the Protectobots.
James [Roberts, writer of MTMTE] mentioned in a prior interview with Women Write About Comics that a “phase 3” is coming up in the IDW Transformers universe, presumably linked to the colony worlds’ discovery in the original Windblade miniseries. Colony worlds are a huge thing in prior iterations of Transformers—the Aligned continuity, the Cybertron cartoon, and other assorted stories throughout the years have used them. Are there any old colonies you want to visit, in addition to the new ones you’ll be inventing?
MS: Yes, I always wanted to deal with the colonies more when I worked in the Aligned continuity. Expect to see a few of them in the IDW-verse after Combiner Wars.
Mairghread, you’ve written for the Aligned continuity multiple times, via the Rage of the Dinobots mini, Beast Hunters, and Transformers: Prime and the upcoming Transformers: Robots in Disguise cartoon. If you could pick five characters who haven’t shown up in IDW yet to introduce into the universe, who would you pick and why? If you wouldn’t mind elaborating on their personalities for the audience, that would be fantastic.
MS: My top five favorite characters (I’ll say two Aligned ones and three others) go as follows:
- The vain and egotistical surgeon Knock Out. You’ve got to love a man who cares more about his own paint job than anyone else’s life. I’ve desperately missed writing his banter with Starscream and would love to bring it back.
- Prime’s silent and unstoppable Soundwave. He has such an alien quality that artists like Livio could really exploit and the challenge of a mute character in comics is exciting.
- Elita One has to be the holy grail for many transformers fans. She was such a powerhouse in the G1 cartoon, almost Sarah Connor-esque with her resistance fighters on Cybertron. She’s just begging to find a place in IDW’s line up.
- Airazor the scout who turns into a hawk was such a big part of my own childhood it would feel wrong not to include her someday. Plus she actually has kind of a corny sense of humor that would play well with a lot of our cast.
- Injector. I guess I kind of already introduced him, but he’s half-angler fish and half-bee and I find the combination to be so weird it’s adorable. There’s something about Injector that feels like Waspinator to the nth degree.
It’s been said that we’re visiting Caminus in Combiner Wars, a world that we know for a fact has female Transformers. The typical fembot is tall, skinny, and curvy, exceptions like Strika in Beast Machines aside. Any plans on increasing the amount of body diversity for female characters in Combiner Wars?
MS: Absolutely. We’re not only introducing more female transformers, we’re trying to make them as diverse as the guys. There’s no reason for a woman who literally becomes a tank to be a size 2.
JB: Yeah, that has absolutely been in the cards from day one.
Along the lines of diversity—any plans to increase LGBT representation in the IDW comics? There are plenty of gay male equivalents in universe, thanks to the relationships that Chromedome and Rewind have had, but speaking for myself I’d be quite thrilled to see lesbian and trans Cybertronians/colony world residents. If there are plans to bring more into the story, do you have any plans for research to make sure readers can see themselves in those characters, vs putting them in the story as a writing experiment or because you can?
MS: Yes, I am very interested in this and there are plans in the works to bring in more diverse characters (not just LGBT, but also disabled characters, different body types and more). You likely won’t see it (particularly any romantic relationships) in Combiner Wars because the focus of that event is on the combiners…and the war. But as soon as the shooting stops, Transformers: Windblade is heading to a lot of new places and I want the new Bots we meet to be as diverse as possible.
As far as researching goes, that’s a delicate balance, because you’re never going to make alien characters perfectly mirror the human condition. (For example, Transformers have racism, but it’s not focused on color so much as alt-mode. A cassette like Ravage would be discriminated against, but there’s no green vs. red transformers.) What I am trying to do is make sure my diverse characters feel like three dimensional people (I often say that ‘female’ is not a personality trait). But I do have a handful of friends I go to check my privilege when needed.
JB: I’m really glad to be getting to a place in terms of story where we’re more accurately reflecting the real world. I don’t really know what else to say… Transformers fans are people of all types, and the more everybody can see themselves reflected in these characters, the more points of view can be on display, the better.
It was mentioned at Botcon 2014 that anthology issues have been discussed in the past, though they have logistical problems. They seem like a good opportunity to give new/indie comics creators a test run, if not bring them on board long term—any news on that front? Anything that could bring more female/LGBT/non-white writers and artists into the public eye and gives them a chance for more work is something I’m interested in.
JB: I guess I’m putting on an Editor’s hat here. Anthology books are a really hard sell to the public and to retailers. Like, all the cards on the table here—I am absolutely in favor of getting more female/LGBT/non-white writers and artists into the public eye. I’m in favor of getting new creators of every type out there. I’ve worked on a number of anthology books over the years, and I’ve seen some creators get their start there and do really well for themselves, and others vanish, and I’ve never seen either of those things be related to a short story in an anthology book.
Anthologies are logistically huge time and resource drains, and they’re the easiest comics to stop reading as a reader. People come back to ongoing comic series to see what happens to the characters next. When you lose that relationship with the characters, regardless of quality, it just becomes a comic thing to keep selling. But, I mean, all that said, the usefulness of them really IS to give “new” (like, new to the publisher, or editor, or property) talent a chance. We’ll see what happens.
The other problem/solution is we do have a lot of Transformers comics coming at any given time. We’ll definitely see some new faces on Transformers writing and art this year, anthology or not.
John, related to TF comics that aren’t part of the main series, I’m curious. At SDCC 2011, a Punch/Counterpunch miniseries was announced, but throughout the years various, understandable issues have pushed it back. If you can, can you tell us anything about the originally planned story? If not, should it be tacitly understood that there are still plans to get it out there, albeit not as a high priority?
JB: Honestly, at this point the comic was written about four years ago. I think we’ve published about… I don’t know, 150-200 Transformers comics since then. It was written by Stuart Moore, who’s a great friend of mine, a really great guy who I really like and everybody should go out and buy his series—and artist Gus Storms’ series—E.G.O.s which is returning from Image in February. But the Punch/Counterpunch story was written before James, Mairghread, and myself started on the comics… I feel like we’re in such a different place with the Transformers comics now that I don’t know how well it would fit in anymore. I talk to Stuart about it every time I see him, though. So, I mean, it’s not off the table, but I don’t think you’ll see it in 2015.
What comics artists that you haven’t had an opportunity to work with in the past do you want to collaborate with in the future? You’ve both had amazing art partners that have given your stories life, including Sarah Stone, Andrew Griffith, Josh Perez, along with many, many others.
MS: We have some really great comic book artists on Transformers right now, and I especially would like to see us push the limit to what people think of when they think of Transformers. I think Emma Rios’ willowy style conveys a great sense of movement that would look super cool on ‘Bots like Blurr. I think Jim Mahfood’s punch-in-your-face art style would kill on a Constructicon-focused issue. Johnnie Christmas has a wonderful balance of detail and space that would work for us. I also have a crazy dream where Kate Beaton draws an MTMTE mini-comic, but that’s probably just me.
JB: Yeah—I’ve been really lucky to get to work with Andrew for like five years now. I love working with Livio, too—we have a really great partnership. Plus, of course, Tom Scioli on Transformers vs. G.I. Joe. And Marcelo Ferreira on Angry Birds: Transformers, I really did have a great time on that, and he’s really talented. And it was fantastic to get Sarah to do a story for Robots In Disguise (when it was still RID). And I’m working with Priscilla Tramontano on the Robots In Disguise Free Comic Book Day story, and she’s amazing. I’ve been crazy-lucky to get to work with everybody. Wayyyy long ago, Alex Milne and I even got to do some in-pack comics for the third movie.
There’s a special quality Transformers artists need to have, so if you mean people I’d like to work with on Transformers… I don’t know. Nick Pitarra would be cool. Fiona Staples is amazing, I’d love to see what she’d do on Transformers. Stuart Immonen is one of my all-time favorites. John Romita Jr. is a dream I’d love to see come true someday. I’d be fascinated to see how Ross Campbell, from our JEM comic, would deal with Cybertronians.
What works have you done in the past that you’re proudest of, that you think are the most influential on the current stories you’re telling?
MS: I’m really proud of one of the first television episode I wrote, an episode of Transformers Prime called “Hurt.” Firstly, I never thought they would let me make it because it’s a story about a little girl taking revenge. But more than that, I felt like I was saying something real to kids. It’s easy to write violence in a kids cartoon, but it’s really hard to show the consequences of violence. I felt like “Hurt” did that; it reminded us of why violence isn’t the answer.
Ironically Windblade deals with the same question, but in a much more nuanced and adult way. Several characters in the series have used violence to very effective ends. And although Windblade is trying to find a better way, even she can never fully escape it. There’s always the question in my mind of how far Windblade can really get with her own philosophy, and that drives the story forward.
JB: I’m really, really proud of the body of work Andrew Griffith and I have managed to accumulate. From way back before these ongoings to the first season of RID to the Dawn of the Autobots stuff, to the current storyline we just wrapped, I feel like we (along with Josh Perez and Tom Long) are a little band that gets to do album after album.
Outside of that, the RID Annual with Guido Guidi and Brendan Cahill is one of my favorite single moments, with it’s echoing present-day and homage-to-the-1984-Transformers-#1 flashback scenes to the early days of the “Golden Age.” That was fun to do, and it sets the stage for a lot of what’s happened since then. And the collected Punishment story that Livio and I did is a story that, while it’s definitely part of the larger picture, stands on its own in a way I’m really happy with. I feel like it’s one that’s easy to hand to somebody that’s not into Transformers—a tough crime story set on a postwar world.
What do you want to do after Combiner Wars? Windblade Returns has been confirmed to not just be a miniseries, but little more besides that has been stated.
MS: That’s by design. Actually, the comic is named Transformers: Windblade; “Windblade Returns” was just a title card put up to announce our comeback. And we haven’t said much about it because Combiner Wars is so linked in with Windblade’s story that saying too much could spoil this event. I will tell you one thing. There’s this old saying I keep thinking of as I write it: “God never gives you more than you can handle.” Windblade is a lot stronger than she was when we first introduced her, but that just means her problems have grown that much bigger with her. I want to believe that Windblade really can build a better future for Cybertron and Caminus. But, as a writer, it’s my job to push her as hard as possible and see if she actually does.
JB: The next set of issues of Transformers deals with the ramifications of what happens in Combiner Wars back on Earth, and the rest of our solar system. With the changes in CW, we’ll see Arcee taking on a new role, and get some good Cosmos stuff, finally. And see what happened to Kup when he was in the Dead Universe. Plus, somebody will return. I won’t say who.
Is there anything else you want to say, that hasn’t been touched on here?
MS: Just that Combiner Wars: Opening Salvo and Combiner Wars: Issue #1 are available for pre-order at your local comic shop. We’d love for you to give it a try and come with us on this crazy ride.
JB: What she said!