Who among us didn’t delight in the joys of creating all kinds of amazing crossovers with our action figures and other toys as kids? Living rooms around the world have played host to some of the most wild and out-there mash-up adventures — until now.
Since Hasbro and IDW Publishing brought all of the publisher’s comics based on the toy company’s characters together into one universe, we’ve been waiting to see how the team-ups would play out as the books head out of “Revolution” and into the future.
At WonderCon, we found out! In July, IDW will launch “Rom Vs. Transformers: Shining Armor” by John Barber, Christos Gage and Alex Milne. The story, set nearly two centuries in the past, will focus on a brand new character named Stardrive who’s not just a Cybertronian, but also a Solstar Knight. She finds herself caught in the middle between her fellow knights — including Rom — and the constantly evil menace of Starscream!
CBR: One of the best parts about Hasbro’s shared universe at IDW is bouncing these characters off of one another. How did the idea for “Shining Armor” come about for you guys?
Christos Gage: I was approached after the idea hatched, so I’ll leave this to John!
John Barber: Well, you were in the writer’s summit when the idea first was floated that Rom had a history with the Transformers. This was back before “Revolution;” we were just getting rolling on the whole idea of the shared universe. Cullen Bunn and I made a couple references in “Revolution” that implied there was more of a history between the characters — though clearly the Autobots in “Revolution” don’t know Rom personally. Over in “Rom,” Christos and Chris have been seeding that idea, too.
For a while, I’d wanted to write a story about a Cybertronian who didn’t know she was a Cybertronian, who was raised on an alien world — and the notion of tying in with the Solstar Order turned that into a more interesting idea.
From a timeline perspective, where does this fit in in the continuity?
Gage: Fairly early in the existence of the Solstar Knights. Not quite 200 years ago, but around 175, 180 years in the past. Rom and his ilk have only recently won their big victory over the Dire Wraiths, and are not really known outside Solstar space… but that’s about to change.
Barber: From the Transformers’ perspective, Cybertron is an uninhabitable husk at this point, and the Autobots and Decepticons are at war even as they search the galaxy for energon. Their war has been going on for about four million years, so they’re on the other side, compared to where the Solstar Order is.
The series revolves around a Cybertronian Solstar Knight, what can you tell us about Stardrive?
Gage: She’s a great combo character… a Cybertronian infant rescued by Rom from a crashed spaceship. She grew up in the Solstar Order, so she’s never been around her own kind, until the events of our story. She’s very much a fish out of water, not really fitting in anywhere. She has a strong code of honor and a good heart, but they’ll be put to the test.
Barber: The reputation of Cybertronians has permeated every part of the civilized galaxy, so the Solstar Order know they’re bad news. Transformers have a tendency to destroy planets that get in their way — that’s all Stardrive knows about her heritage. She doesn’t fit in with organic life, but all she’s ever heard is how terrible Cybertronians are.
What was the process like for designing Stardrive with Alex Milne?
Gage: I stayed out of it, not being too familiar with Transformers, and I think he nailed it! She has sweetness and innocence, but also she looks incredibly tough, like when she’s stomping on Dire Wraiths!
Barber: Working closely with the team at Hasbro, Christos and I developed the story and what her personality was. At first, we’d even thought of using an existing Transformers character, but it became clear we were creating somebody new — the experiences she’d gone through and the way she acted didn’t fit right by the time we’d outlined the story. The character was very honest and very optimistic, despite everything. But she’s a Knight, a warrior, and she’s led a hard life. So we threw it over to Alex, who deserves the gold medal for Stardrive.
In collaboration with Hasbro’s creative team, Alex came up with the look, the alt-mode, how the Solstar armor works, and her name. I would have happily gotten involved, but as you might know, Alex really knows Transformers. He’s been drawing them for a really long time, and really gets what makes them tick. And he did a perfect job here. I couldn’t be happier with what he’s done with Stardrive.
What can you tell us about how Starscream plays into the meeting between Rom and the Transformers?
Barber: Starscream’s out to get glory and power for himself, and he sees an opportunity. Er, I guess that’s what Starscream always does. But he finds out about Stardrive, and he reasons that if there’s a Cybertronian in Solstar space, they must have some way of feeding her. And the lack of energon is a driving force for Cybertronians at this point in history; one that leads him on a collision course with the Solstar Knights.
From a thematic perspective, what makes Rom and the Transformers bounce well off of one another?
Gage: I will admit that I wasn’t terribly familiar with the Transformers before this, but the more I learned, the more it seemed like a great fit. Besides the obvious — cool metal dudes and dudettes punching each other — there is the intriguing element that many of the Transformers view organic life as somewhat (or completely) inferior. But now along comes Rom, who is a combination of organic and machine life, and also functionally immortal. So where does he stand? It’s the kind of thing that calls your whole belief system into question, which is why it’s so much fun to have a Cybertronian Solstar Knight as the fish out of water who is seeing her own people for the first time.
Barber: My whole run on Transformers has been about the recurring cycles of violence, and throwing another big space empire like the Solstar Order — and the Dire Wraiths — into the mix gives an outside perspective on the Cybertronian war and vice versa. The Solstar Order looks down on the endless war of the Cybertronians, even as they’re just starting to engage in their own endless war. The organic versus mechanical differences sort of fade away when the shooting starts.
Also, I don’t know if this is thematic, but we finally see what happens when a Dire Wraith possesses a Transformer! It’s horrifying!
Alex obviously has a huge deal of experience when it comes to Transformers. For you, what made him the right artist for this book?
Gage: Alex puts an insane George Perez level of detail into his work! I love it! He can cram a ton of stuff onto a page without readability ever suffering. He’s also awesome at designing aliens and is adept at adding a horror element to the Wraith scenes.
Barber: I’d worked with Alex for years as editor on “Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye,” and when that book changed artists, we knew Alex would do something big. Plus, now that I’m not editing anymore, I was really interested in working with him as a writer — I’d sort of had the chance to watch him for so long, I knew some of the stuff he was really great at.
A comic like “Rom Vs. Transformers” needs a lot of stuff designed — we go to quite a few different planets and occupy a bunch of space ships in issue one, and all of them have to have their own history; their own feel. So Christos and I would give Alex some cues, but leave space for Alex to develop some of the background. I mean, we have a Solstar space station in issue one, and in collaboration with Hasbro’s creative team Alex not only designed the look of it, but he came back with all these ideas about what kind of crew it would have, how their shifts would rotate, and how it would operate in deep space. Great stuff—it’s a really great collaboration.
I suggested we write this plot-first, so we send Alex the story, not necessarily broken into panels, and without final dialog. The thing that really surprised me — in an exciting way — was how Alex broke these pages down in more detail that I’d have imagined. He’s doing 9-panel pages sometimes, but they still feel big and epic, and the storytelling is razor-sharp. When you combine Alex’s linework with Josh Perez’s colors, “Rom Vs. Transformers” will look and read like no other comic out there.
“Rom Vs. Transformers: Shining Armor” #1 by John Barber, Christos Gage and Alex Milne debuts on July 19 from IDW.