Though it stars dozens of characters best known for their animated adventures, IDW Publishing‘s “Revolution” will not be televised. It will, however, impact the world of comics in a major way when writers John Barber and Cullen Bunn, and artist Fico Ossio join forces to gather various Hasbro brands including G.I. Joe, Transformers, Micronauts, M.A.S.K., Action Man and Rom into a single comic book universe in the September-launching limited series.
The move reflects a similar one in the works between Hasbro and Paramount Pictures to incorporate the already-existing Transformers and G.I. Joe franchises with up-and-comers like M.A.S.K., Rom, Micronauts and Visionaries. While details on the movie project remains somewhat secretive at this time, IDW has already announced that its comic story will go continue beyond the initial series through a series of one-shots.
CBR spoke with the creators involved in the five-issue unifying series, not only to find out how it came about, but also to learn what — if any — relationship it has to the film side of things, as well as what it is that will bring these various groups together.
CBR News: John, you’ve been involved on the editorial side of things for these books for a while. How did you feel about bringing the universes together?
John Barber: I’d always thought if I could go back in time, I’d make sure the IDW G.I. Joe comics took place in the same universe as the Transformers comics.
I grew up with these big universes from Marvel and DC and Image and Valiant and Wildstorm and everybody. I’ve always liked the idea that you can have divergent characters interact and bump into each other and be friends and be enemies and all that stuff. AThere was some of that with the classic Transformers and G.I. Joe comics in the 1980s and ’90s, but it’s, let’s say, a little inconsistently applied in those comics.
In real life, though, the way the IDW Hasbro comics rolled out, IDW did the Transformers comics for a few years before they got the rights to do G.I. Joe, and this was all pre- “universes” being part of the everyday parlance. I mean, all of us entrenched in comics got the idea, but the perception was those comic book universes could alienate casual readers — and forget about viewers of film and TV in those days! The past 10 years have totally changed cultural perceptions.
I always really liked that idea, but as a writer and an editor, I was happy to roll on with the status quo of Transformers in one box, and G.I. Joe in another. As we started doing these other Hasbro brands, they were all going in their own boxes — and that was a lot of boxes.
How did the decision to combine the contents of those boxes come about?
Barber: One day, the IDW editors were brainstorming ideas, and this notion of doing a crossover came about — but I’m never totally sold on big crossovers that don’t impact the subsequent status quo. Like, it’s fun to cross over two properties and see how they interact, but I mean, if you’re getting a lot of characters together, it has to have some impact on the world. Meanwhile, I think what Tom Scioli — and me, a little — did on the “Transformers vs. G.I. Joe” comic was great, really fun stuff. But that story was ending; Tom and I had it all planned to wrap up.
Then I remembered something Andrew Griffith, who draws “Transformers,” suggested one time: the IDW G.I. Joe comics could fit in between big Transformers comics events. At the time, it wasn’t anything we were really serious about, but now — I started thinking about that. Did that actually kind of make sense?
The more I thought about it, the more it kind of fit together. If G.I. Joe was there, but they’ve become smaller, more covert-ops like they were in the last series we did, and now Optimus Prime in “Transformers” has annexed Earth to be part of Cybertron’s Council of World. Well, G.I. Joe is who you should send in there, right? And that fit in perfectly with the conclusion of “All Hail Optimus,” the story where Prime takes his unilateral action, and then Rom and Action Man and Micronauts could all be in there. And we talked seriously about Jem being there, and, hey — what about M.A.S.K.? All this just came together.
I was super-excited, really energized about what this would mean for doing a Transformers comic set largely on Earth — there were suddenly characters on the planet with as much conceptual weight as Optimus and company. And, I mean, I can’t explain this without spoiling like 18 months of stories (at least), but it all fit so well into what I was planning in “Transformers” and “Action Man.” And when I called Cullen, it seemed like it fit really well in where he was heading in “Micronauts” — I mean, I edit that, I know for a fact it fit, but he was really into it.
Cullen and Fico, you’re both working on “Micronauts.” What was your reaction when you first heard the idea to bring all of these properties into one shared universe?
Cullen Bunn: My first reaction: This kind of craziness was something that 10-year-old Cullen would have loved. I mean, I threw all of my action figures into massive team-ups when I was playing anyhow. The idea of seeing these vastly different characters interacting is absolutely thrilling.
My second reaction: This is a very ambitious project, and it will be a challenge to tell this story in a way that makes sense and honors each and every one of these properties. It’s one thing to be a kid mixing all of these characters together while playing. It’s something completely different when you’re talking about telling an exciting, satisfying adventure comic.
My third reaction: This is the kind of challenge I really, really love! It’s not the kind of project I could possibly pass up.
Fico Ossio: The first time I heard the idea of the shared universe, I thought it was fantastic, and how was it not done before?! It was last year during SDCC when I met all the team, but I was’t involved at all at the time so we were just discussing ideas that were going around. I could only hope that all aligned so that it could be done just to read it!
When David Hedgecock first approached me to work on this, it was quite the shock! I was thrilled to be part of the team to make that a reality. As I got to know more about how the story that John and Cullen wrote would unfold, it sounded even better. The story to unite all the universe is fantastic, as epic as one would hope. Plus, it does’t get better than this. I get to work on all the best characters of IDW — minus the Turtles, of course — and on one of the most important events. I was excited, and a bit freaked out, too! But I do love challenges.
This effort seems to reflect a similar plan for Hasbro’s big screen adaptations. Do you have any communication with the people working on the films?
Barber: Hasbro Studios is very aware of what we’re doing, and there’s some back and forth sharing of information and ideas. I don’t think there’s been any big thing where we’ve seen things one way and they’ve seen things other ways. We’ve been remarkably in sync, I think it’s fair to say. There’ve been some characters that have specifically come from the studio here and there — some of these brands have been dormant for a while, and there are new angles they have on characters that they’ve shared with us, like Phenolo-Phi in “Micronauts.” They have some amazingly talented people working in that writer’s room — like, seriously extraordinary people who have done amazing film, comics and television. The few I know personally are great human beings, too.
The funny thing with this was, it wasn’t like a mandate came down and said, “Do this.” Totally the opposite. IDW Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall and I flew out to Hasbro headquarters in Rhode Island to try to convince them to do this, because we really wanted to have this universe exist. And it turned out we were all on the same page. It was great, the people running the brands at Hasbro were all very into this and really supportive, and offered great ideas and angles on what we could do.
As always, Michael Kelly, Senior Director, Global Publishing at Hasbro has been with this project since the day we thought of it, and he interacts with the brand teams in Rhode Island and the studio in Los Angeles, coordinating with IDW and all of us.
Bunn: As John mentioned, the folks working on the cinematic versions know what we’re doing, and we’ve been kept apprised of some of their plans. That said, I don’t think our stories are following similar paths at all. The folks from Hasbro have been so supportive of us when it comes to creating a universe that stands on its own.
Fico, how is it for you bringing all these different characters who come from various backgrounds and realities together into one cohesive look?
Ossio: It sort of built up from my first take on G.I. Joe. David and John asked me to work on a cover/pinup of the characters and gave me license to give them an “upgrade.”
I didn’t want to really stray too far from the original cartoon, which I watched as a kid and loved. I had a bunch of G.I. Joe toy,s as well, so I wanted to just take those uniforms and give them more of a body armor look. Especially considering these guys were about to clash against 10-foot-tall robots. I could’t grasp the concept of keeping them in regular army outfits or spandex — sorry Snake Eyes. I think it works, because they still look true to their original design, but with a modern and updated look. Then, I took the new design of Action Man and applied the same as I did on G.I. Joe.
Next was Transformers. A lot of artists had worked on Transformers, and I found most of the designs Andrew Griffith had done were great. I respect his designs and pushed to make them more complex, with new, flexible parts and more of an organic look, which I thought would bring them closer to the combined universe. I also wanted to bring some of the elements from the movies. Except for Optimus. I couldn’t help myself, and with him I pushed as far as the guys would let me.
M.A.S.K. has maybe the biggest update of them all. I just got to work on some of the designs, so far. I felt they needed new vehicle models. If this was all-new, groundbreaking technology, the cars and truck needed to have more of a “concept car” look. But, of course, you still want to have them be easily recognizable as the original cartoon.
Micronauts was brilliantly redesigned by David Baldeon, and same with Rom, who was designed by David Messina. I just drew them in my style with some minor takes on them.
The whole process was a lot of fun, and hopefully the fans feel it does justice to all these great characters. The real challenge was to be able to have them all interact with each other in one scene, having so many size differences!
Was it difficult trying to figure out how they can all co-exist in the same world?
Barber: I wrote a little prologue story that we’re going to be giving away that sort of outlines how the history of Transformers and G.I. Joe and a little bit of Micronauts, Rom and Action Man. M.A.S.K. is coming directly out of “Revolution,” so it’s a little mind-bending, but in terms of continuity, it all fits in.
There’s a thing I always bring up: Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips did a comic called “Sleeper” that was my favorite comic for a while. “Sleeper” was a noir spy drama set in the Wildstorm Universe, which was populated by superheroes. The characters in “Sleeper” had powers, but it was all very low-key and grounded. During the run of “Sleeper,” the super-team, the Authority, took over the world. And in “Sleeper,” the only time the fact that superheroes were now running the planet was even mentioned was a line like — I’m saying this from memory, so I might be off — “with the new administration in place, there will be different protocols.”
I’m comfortable with compartmentalizing and allowing for scale. Like, I’ve always been okay with the idea that Daredevil can be fighting a mugger and that can mean everything in that story, even though in that same universe Thanos might be invading a galaxy. I think putting all these characters together only increases the possibilities of storytelling, it doesn’t diminish it. “G.I. Joe” can be a radically different style than “M.A.S.K.” or “Rom,” and they can still interact.
Bunn: The challenge is bringing all of these characters together in a way that seems natural. The creators working on these books have worked together to build a lot of connective tissue between the different properties. What’s nice is, it doesn’t seem forced at all. It already feels like a fully-formed, shared universe. For instance, I was absolutely blown away when I heard about the setup for “M.A.S.K.” It makes so much sense. It was a, “Why didn’t I think of that?” moment.
As “Revolution” kicks off, what kind of threat or event is it that’s big enough to bring all these different groups together? And what was the design process like developing that individual or force?
Barber: The background is, Optimus Prime has publicly declared Earth to be under his protection and part of Cybertron’s Council of Worlds. This isn’t Dark Optimus; he’s doing good things — at least from his point of view — but the people of Earth are naturally going to be concerned about this turn of events.
Now, one of the reasons Earth has been important to the Transformers is this substance called Ore-13. This has a long history in the Transformers comics, but the short version is it can be converted to Energon, which is the Transformers’ fuel source. That means the Earth is one of the few places in the galaxy where Transformers can live — it has a food source, basically. But Ore-13 has always had other properties — an ability to supercharge Cybertronians, for one.
Something starts happening to Ore-13 around the world, making it unstable, and all signs point to Optimus Prime, who has no idea why this is happening. That sets the stage for “Revolution.”
Bunn: Ore-13 is the key to this event. For various reasons, everybody wants it or wants to destroy it. For some, the mineral is the source of great mystery. Others covet Ore-13. Some are willing to share their knowledge, for a price. Others know just enough about Ore-13 to be very, very dangerous.
What kind of conflict arises from within the various groups and individuals as they’re thrust together?Â
Barber: There’s a natural tension between the Cybertronians and the humans. Optimus Prime wants to protect humans, both from Cybertronians and from what he sees as problematic human authority. G.I. Joe is brought into the fold in response to this big, big potential threat on Earth. I mean, the humans know Optimus; this isn’t like a random alien shows up, but still, he’s overreaching, from the President’s POV.
Meanwhile, Rom’s been going around, as we saw on Free Comic Book Day, and executing Dire Wraiths. This puts him at odds with human authorities, as well. They don’t even know about Dire Wraiths, but the Wraiths sure know what Cybertronians are.
The web quickly becomes complex — lots of different points of view, many of them valid, with people who should be friends fighting one another, and people who should be enemies becoming allies.
Bunn: There are a lot of moving parts in this series. Each faction has goals that will bring them into allegiance or conflict with the other factions. Sometimes, those allegiances change on a dime, just like sometimes the conflict will turn into team up based on circumstances. I think as the event wraps up, there will be battle lines drawn very clearly between these various groups.
How will your own ongoings look different after the events of “Revolution?”
Barber: Lots of the Transformers comic I write will be different, including the title. But at the same time, it’s building the same story I started writing five years ago. You don’t need to know all that stuff, but if you do, rest assured this is all part of the big story we’ve been telling. It’s an unexpected benefit — I mean, 2011 John had no inkling that Rom or Scarlett or Acroyear or Windblade or Action Man would be there, but this all fits into the tale Andrew Griffith and I set out to tell.
But coming out of “Revolution,” there are some big changes. Lots of stuff is going to happen between now and November, when “Revolution” ends.
Bunn: As you can imagine, all of the books will be shaken to the core by “Revolution.” With “Micronauts,” the secrets revealed in the crossover will impact all of Microspace. We’re going to dig deep, all the way back to the origins of this alternate universe. And, as we’ve seen in my book, there’s a “storm” eating away at the heart of Microspace. The crossover will tie directly into this force of destruction, either as a solution or by making it worse.
The Micronauts will, of course, be venturing to Earth during “Revolution,” and they’ll be sticking around for a bit afterwards, although not necessarily by their own free will. So we’re going to get some mini heroes in a gigantic world shenanigans for a bit after the event.
I’m picturing the kinds of fight scenes that would make any child of the ’80s grin from ear to ear. How much fun has it been writing and drawing those?
Barber: I can say this: There’s a particular fight scene/set piece I thought of back in the first meeting or so that really got me excited. To me, it’s amazing to have the scale of the four-inch-tall Micronauts to the human G.I. Joe to the slightly taller Rom to the even bigger M.A.S.K. vehicles to the towering Transformers — which get even bigger when you have Combiners (when 5 or 6 Transformers form together into a giant robot mode) and the even huger Titans — which are cities that change into robots, but they’re cities at a Cybertronian scale, so they’re miles tall. There’s a lot of fun to be had.
Cullen and I had some good times bouncing ideas off each other, and when Fico started doing art — wow. Here was somebody who could, somehow, pull off every crazy idea, and make it look great.
Bunn: So much fun! The battles in this book are going to be something else. Fico had no small task before him, balancing so many characters of various shapes and sizes. But he’s knocked it out of the park. I see his pages rolling in, and I’m amazed at how much he elevates these crazy stories John and I are writing.
Ossio: Being a child from the ’80s, and being a big fan of all these characters, it’s been a real pleasure to be part of this great team and have the opportunity to bring this story to life.
It’s been a surreal experience for me to be drawing Optimus, Snake Eyes, etc. It brings me back to when I watched the shows as a child every morning, or when I got the Sky Striker for Christmas. Who would’ve thought I would end up drawing these characters for such a major story?
I’m grateful for the trust David, John and Cullen have given me to bring to life this epic story. I also get to work with Sebastian Cheng, who’s doing an outstanding work on the coloring. It’s been nothing but a pleasure, and hopefully the readers will have as much fun going through the pages as I have drawing them.
IDW Publishing’s “Revolution” begins in September.