Writers Talk “Combiner Wars” Event, Transformers Gender Identity & More

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Writers Talk “Combiner Wars” Event, Transformers Gender Identity & More

According to Cybertronian lore, the Combiners are gigantic, super-Transformers, formed by fusing smaller bots together. As such, it’s only fitting that when the Combiners take the spotlight in the IDW Publishing universe, it’s through an epic story created by fusing together two separate series.

Beginning in “Transformers” #39, by writer John Barber and artist Livio Ramondelli, the six-part “Combiner Wars” alternates between that title and “Transformers: Windblade: Combiner Wars,” by writer Mairghread Scott and artist Sarah Stone.

“Combiner Wars” marks IDW’s first major “Transformers” crossover since last year’s “Dark Cybertron” — and if you thought Starscream went overboard before, just wait until you see what Scott and Barber have in store for Cybertron this time, including one bot Barber describes as “an NBA star crossed with Godzilla.” However, readers can expect both writers to go deeper than providing fans with just another robot slug-fest, as themes of diversity come into play, with Scott arguing that some Transformers are just “inherently male and female.”

CBR News: This is the first big “Transformers” crossover since last year’s “Dark Cybertron” epic. While we understand the basic gist of the crossover, what more can you tell us about “Combiner Wars?” Who, exactly is combining? Who is warring?

Mairghread Scott: “Combiner Wars” starts when Starscream (a rather evil guy and ruler of Cybertron) gains the ability to make a Combiner (a super-powerful giant) and seems poised to build a new Cybertronian empire.

Let that sink in.

Because when we talk about empire in “Transformers,” we’re not talking a few countries in Europe. We’re speaking of whole planets who might be about to bow to the power of one man. Combiners are the ultimate weapons of Transformers, and Starscream can now make as many as he wants.

So you have two very different wars happening at the same time. Windblade and Optimus Prime are fighting a war for influence (Can they get people to see the danger Starscream poses?), while others take a much more literal war with every weapon they have.

John Barber: Meanwhile, on Earth, Prowl is sitting at the head of the up-to-now only really properly-functioning Combiner — the other attempts have basically failed outright or driven the component people mad — and he’s not keen on Optimus Prime’s leadership of the Autobots, or Starscream’s ruling of Cybertron.

To put it in a real world setting: It’s six issues (one “Opening Salvo” and five actual parts, just like most of the Combiners have) that starts in “Transformers” #39, goes to the new “Transformers: Windblade” #1, back to “Transformers” #40 and alternated until it’s done. Mairghread and I are writing it, and the art is by the amazing Sarah Stone and Livio Ramondelli, alternating issues.

Windblade’s world was isolated from Cybertron for so many generations — how do they react to the sudden attention of Starscream as his forces discover the planet at the beginning of “Combiner Wars?”

Scott: Caminus isn’t isolationist — it’s literally been stranded for eons. They are poor, almost starving and desperate for any help they can get from Cybertron. And Starscream is more than willing to help them… for a price. It’s up to Windblade to make sure that price doesn’t get too high and that Cybertron’s helping hand doesn’t become an iron fist.

Barber: Starscream is a master politician by this point. He’s a better politician than a ruler, but that means he sees a way to turn helping others into a powerfully selfish act. What a guy!

Can you tell us more about Superion and how the giant Transformer comes into play during “Combiner Wars?”

Barber: Five Aerialbots — an Autobot team — went off into the wilds of Cybertron and came back, combined into a giant form. Then things went really bad for the guys, and they’ve basically been in a coma ever since. When Starscream figures out how to revive these guys…

Scott: They’re the robot equivalent of an NBA star crossed with Godzilla. Superion is a Combiner made from five Autobots who all share one common personality trait — confidence. So Superion has confidence in spades. Where Devastator is brutal and straightforward, Superion is elegant and evasive. We’ve also given him some cool new moves I guarantee you haven’t seen before.

Starscream has had his claws in Cybertron for a while when “Combiner Wars” begins — how has that been working out?

Scott: Actually, pretty well. Being a good person doesn’t always make you a good leader and that’s the source of the main tension in the book. Yeah, Starscream is selfish and power-hungry, but he also gets stuff done. There will be those who believe that an evil leader doing good is more desirable than a good leader who can’t.

Barber: He’s actually had a rough time in office — “Dark Cybertron,” which was pretty much not his fault, and now “Combiner Wars.” Which totally is his fault.

Suppose Starscream does get his hands on all the Combiners. What would an entire universe run by him look like?

Barber: Probably pretty lousy, if your name isn’t Starscream.

Scott: If you ask Starscream, it’s a bright and glorious time of devotion to himself and prosperity for all. If you ask Prowl, it’s a dystopian future where every kind of evil will be spread across the galaxy. Windblade fears her planet’s culture will be wiped out, and Optimus believes that new colonists will become soldiers turned against whoever Starscream wants. It’s the conflict between those visions that lies at the heart of “Combiner Wars.” The scary thing is, more than one of them will be right.

How do secrets come in as a theme to “Combiner Wars?” What are the secrets — and the lies — these robots are telling?

Scott: Secrets are huge in “Combiner Wars,” because so much of it is a war of information. What do you think happened? What can you prove happened? These fuel the political fight going on in our issues and they are the triggers that will set off the physical war between the giant combiners themselves.

Barber: Characters lie to each other and to themselves. Starscream doesn’t see the difference between lies and truth, while Optimus and Windblade are truthful — but they’ve both found themselves in compromised situations.

Where did you start sowing the seeds of “Combiner Wars?”

Scott: “Combiner Wars” started the moment Windblade appeared in “Dark Cybertron.” Unlike many other events, this is a direct extension of both her and Optimus’ story arc that will have long-term ramifications. That makes “Combiner Wars” really special to me. We didn’t just write a Combiner slug-fest (although we did do that), we also used this conflict to really push our characters and world forward in their development. This isn’t “we’re blowing up New York, it’ll be fine next week”. This is a game-changer, across the board.

Barber: Yeah, the seeds were literally sown back in the planning of “Dark Cybertron.” There are character progressions that we’ve been planning, stuff we’ve been building to, since then. Well, actually, even further — way back in issue #5 of the “Transformers” series (then called “Transformers: Robots in Disguise”) when the Aerialbots walk out into the wilderness, it was eventually leading to this.

That said — if you’ve been hearing about the IDW “Transformers” comics, this is a good one to check out. The simmering anger of the post-war Cybertron erupt into flames here, and we’ll make sure to get you up to speed as we go!

Diversity is a big issue in comics — and everywhere, really — and something that I know is important to both of you, but how exactly do you promote diversity through stories about giant sexless, raceless robots?

Scott: The term “sexless” is debatable in my view. I want to be clear: There are Transformers who are inherently male and inherently female. That doesn’t mean the same thing as it does in humans, but Transformers that call themselves “she” aren’t doing it because they like the ‘sh’ sound. They are female, and we’re going to meet a lot more of them.

The term “raceless” is also misleading. Transformers have a long history of racial tension against cassettes, animalistic transformers, headmasters, etc. They are just as noble as humans and we’re pushing the envelope to make them at least as diverse as we are. So what can you expect in terms of Transformers in the future? More! More body types, more races, more LGBTQ, more religions and creeds and classes. More conflict about all of the above. Working with robots doesn’t stop us from exploring diversity. It offers us the chance to push the boundaries of diversity in a lot of interesting, allegorical ways.

Barber: Yeah, what Mairghread said there. One of the things that non-“Transformers” fans might not realize is how wide-ranging and inclusive the “Transformers” fanbase is. I mean, it’s self-evident if you’re part of the “Transformers” world, but “Transformers” readers, “Transformers” fans encompass the entire spectrum of people. And it’s important to have the characters in the comic be reflective of that.

It’s sometimes a complex line to walk, between the out-and-out science-fiction-ness of the “Transformers” universe and its relationship with the real world, but it’s important.

“Combiner Wars” kicks-off in “Transformers” #39 before continuing in “Transformers: Windblade” #1, both available in March from IDW Publishing.