Barber Charts Out A New Future For Optimus Prime

The most famous Transformer in the galaxy busted out in his own solo series this week thanks to John Barber and Kei Zama!

Rolling out of "Revolutions," the story that integrated a variety of Hasbro properties like Transformers, G.I. Joe, Action Man and M.A.S.K. into the same shared universe, "Optimus Prime" will continue to explore the new Hasbro-iffic world while dealing with the ramifications of the lead character's decision to add Earth to Cybertron's Council of Worlds without consulting anyone involved.

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CBR talked with Barber about Optimus' new prime directive, the character's he's decided to surround himself with and working with an all-new interior artist!

CBR: Without giving too much away about how "Revolution" ends, how does that series lead into "Optimus Prime?"

John Barber: Well, "Revolution" is over now, and boats transporting comic books across the ocean have conspired to drive a little more time between the end of "Revolution" and the beginning of "Optimus Prime," so I guess we can give away the ending! But I'll be careful, in case anybody’s still waiting to finish it.

The set-up in "Optimus Prime" is that Optimus has declared Earth is part of Cybertron's Council of Worlds, whether Earth wants to be there or not. He's doing this to protect Earth. In "Revolution," Baron Karza from "Micronauts" – with some help on Earth – was after this substance called Ore-13. At the end of the series, Karza's defeated but the Ore remains. Ore-13 can be converted into energon, which the Transformers consume and which can be used as a fuel by others. So Earth has a value in an interstellar economy. As such, Optimus realizes Earth isn't just a thing to be protected, it's a place with its own future it has to forge.

But Optimus very much sees himself as part of that future. He still wants Earth to join the Council, it's just that now he sees the relationship between Earth and him differently — more as equals. But a wrench gets thrown into his new outlook when an alien ship lands, looking for Ore-13. And these new arrivals have a relationship to the Cybertronians. So what does he do, and what does Earth do, when Earth's place in the cosmic community gets jump-started?

In Prime, you have this unique lead with literally millions of years of history. Will you be digging into that?

We'll definitely be digging into Optimus Prime's past. The first arc has a parallel story set before the war — back when Optimus was Orion Pax, a police officer on Cybertron. It's another view, on another world, in another time, of a lot of the same issues at play in the present day: the relationship of a protector to the protected, and how Optimus/Orion looks at his enemies. Back then, Cybertron was on a downward curve, historically speaking. Orion's on the precipice of a four-million-year-long war that he winds up being an essential part of.

In the present day, endless war is not what Optimus wants for his new homeworld – and he really does start to see Earth as his new, adopted, world. So, as the past story unfolds, we'll see how his decisions, and how circumstances, led to this unfathomable tragedy of the War for Cybertron. And in the present, we can see how Optimus does or does not follow the same path. How much has four million years of war, and all the events of the past comics, really changed him?

How's Optimus' decision to make Earth part of the Cybertronian Council of Worlds going over so far?

Optimus still sees it as a done deal; like, he really has difficulty fathoming why anybody doesn't think this is a good idea. He wants timetables, he wants an ambassador — all that kind of stuff. But, I mean, Earth isn't a monolithic place. We don't have a world-wide government. Even if this was a thing Earth wanted, there isn't a mechanism to make it happen.

Meanwhile, Earth — via M.A.S.K. and via all kinds of stuff Blackrock from the "Revolutionaries" comic has done — has tons of Cybertronian technology all around the world. And on Cybertron, it’s a violation of the Tyrest Accords for a Cybertronian to give their tech to another world. Optimus realizes that if he's saying he's responsible for Earth, there's a serious problem there. So, on Cybertron, the Council is divided at every level about what Optimus has done. And, again, there just isn't a mechanism to deal with bringing in a non-Colony world. Though, some claim Earth is a Cybertronian colony already.

So, Optimus' relationship status with Earth – and Cybertron – comes down to, "It's complicated."

Optimus tends to have a crew around him. Will that be the case in here? Who can fans expect to see at his side?

Optimus still has a big crew with him. The real difference here is that Optimus' actions are so big, the people around him can't help but be pulled into the orbit of what he's doing. Soundwave is still at his side, and Pyra Magna and the Torchbearers (who form Victorion) are there, but she's not exactly standing at his side. Arcee is cautious toward him, but in a different way. And Aileron, who was a Colonist who sees Optimus as a space-messiah, has had her worldview shattered a bit. She sees Optimus is just a guy – a big, metal guy – dealing with things as best he can.

But then Optimus brings in a half-dozen new Colonists, all very eager to follow his every word. This decision doesn't sit well with all of his crew, but it introduces some very obscure faces into the fold – characters like Oiler, Slide, Gimlet, Bump, Midnight Express, and Roulette. Don't be worried if you don't know them — nobody else on Optimus' team knows them, either. But Aileron and Pyra are both colonists themselves, and seeing these hopeful 'bots willing to lay down their lives for Optimus, right or wrong...well, they get a little uneasy with the situation.

Thanks to Revolution, there's a new status quo in the universe. Is it exciting having all these extra toys in play as you move forward with your stories?

It is very exciting to play with all of these extra characters! I love that G.I. Joe shows up in issue 2. When Transformers are usually fighting humans, there's not much of a level relationship, conceptually. Like, the Transformers are who you're here to see and you know at some level that whoever they go up against only exists because Transformers comic needs them to. But G.I. Joe has a life of it's own, and a rich, awesome history.

I'm really excited to get to bring in Flint and Chameleon, who are some of my favorite G.I. Joe characters. And we also get a chance to make Zilong Qian, who's been in Transformers comics for the past year, the field leader of a G.I. Joe team codename Talon. The first Chinese citizen to lead a G.I. Joe team, I'm pretty sure. So we get to take from the G.I. Joe mythos and add to them.

What can you tell us about this massive corkscrew-like ship that appears with a mad-on for Earth?

Well...it's big — really, really big — and as solicits have revealed (skip this part if you’ve been avoiding any spoilers), it's filled with Junkions. We have Wreck-Gar, and a new female character Kei and I came up with called Rum-Maj, and, well, a lot more people inside the ship. They're here for Ore-13 and they have a fairly legitimate beef with Cybertronians.

What made Kei the right artist for the book?

I'd worked on most of the previous Transformers series with Andrew Griffith. We'd been working together non-stop since 2010, all on Transformers. I'd been able to write other stuff, but he was understandably interested in trying his hand at something else. Still, losing him was like losing half my limbs. Fortunately, he didn't go far — he’s drawing the M.A.S.K. ANNUAL — and we still talk every day, so we're cool. But his departure meant we had to find somebody really great to handle the art.

Andrew had introduced me to Kei Zama's art. Andrew goes to Japan a lot, and he met Kei there. She did some covers last year, and she kept in touch with me, sending me a cool sketchbook and then a short story she'd drawn. Her style is so different from Andrew, or from anybody on the Transformers books, which is what made her really exciting. I mean, I think we've had an unbelievably talented crew on all the Transformers comics for the past few years and Kei came in with such a different style that played well with this world. She has an aggressive bent to her work: a little of the Derek Yaniger's G-2 Transformers comics, a little Kevin O’Neill – who I know is one of her favorite artists – and a lot of heavy metal and beer.

How does bringing in a new artist like Kei change your approach to Optimus and these other characters?

When I thought about what a comic drawn by her would look like, it was like a whole new approach to the Transformers opened up. I mean, I've been writing these characters for a while, and I'm always super-excited to get to do this stuff, but the idea of Kei's vision of the characters, of the way she'd draw G.I. Joe characters, and how she'd approach all this...it seemed like such an exciting idea.

Carlos Guzman, our editor, didn't take too much convincing, and he brought in Josh Burcham to color and Josh has brought a very unique, very cool color palette. The book has an amazingly distinct look to it. It doesn’t feel like anything else out there, which is amazing.

So, Kei's able to do incredibly aggressive action and really funny character beats. She's able to do big scale stuff — especially as the first arc progresses — but this series is super-dense, with a lot of elements layered upon each other and Kei can sort it out and make it look stylish. She's been fantastic to work with, and I hope this is the start of another great partnership!

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