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Barber & Ossio’s Revolutionaries Expands the IDW/Hasbro Universe

by  in CBR Exclusives, Comic News Comment
Barber & Ossio’s Revolutionaries Expands the IDW/Hasbro Universe

What happens when the Revolution comes to an end? At IDW Publishing, it keeps on rolling in the pages of “Revolutionaries,” a December-launching team series by John Barner and Fico Ossio spinning out of the Hasbro-IDW event that brings together the Transformers, G.I. Joe, Action Man, R.O.M., Micronauts, M.A.S.K. and other concepts owned by the toy company.

“Revolutionaries” will not only feature Transformers characters Blackrock and Kup, but also G.I. Joe Mayday and Action Man. The recurring cast will come into contact with a variety of Hasbro-created characters old and new, now that everyone lives in the same reality.

CBR News: Was this spin-off project always part of the Revolution plan, or did it develop as you all were putting the pieces together?

John Barber: What became “Revolutionaries” really started at the retreat when we were planning out Revolution and what came next. We all had plans for our individual series, but there wasn’t a book that had an overview of the whole post-Revolution world. I think Cullen Bunn and Mairghread Scott had a couple of big ideas — there were a lot of great writers there, so forgive me if I’m misremembering, everybody was throwing out ideas. I think Cullen suggested Action Man was in a position to look over the whole world, and Mairghread got really specific and brought up the Warren Ellis series “Global Frequency,” where Ellis and a bunch of different artists told stories about an international group of problem-solvers. The genesis is really the three of us throwing ideas around the room, and it became clear I was in a position where maybe I should write it.

EXCLUSIVE: Ossio's cover for "Revolutionaries" #1

EXCLUSIVE: Ossio’s cover for “Revolutionaries” #1

So that was all going on, but the reality of actually doing the book kind of came and went over the next weeks and months, but publisher Ted Adams and Revolution editor David Hedgecock liked the idea of doing it as “Revolutionaries,” so I started developing it into an idea for a series. Once Fico was on board, and we were hanging out at SDCC, I got an idea of what he’s really good at — which is almost everything — so it all started to coalesce.

David and G.I. Joe editor Carlos Guzman had some really incisive notes on this huge pitch/overview I wrote. I mean, this thing has like 60 footnotes, which isn’t something I’ve ever done on a pitch, but David and Carlos made the series stronger, and then — because this crosses so many brands — a bunch of people at Hasbro had some notes and questions about how this would affect, say, G.I. Joe characters and stuff, and then — and I kinda hate to admit it — Hasbro’s Michael Kelly had a big couple notes at the end that sort of blew up something I really liked, one of the bits I wanted to do from the beginning, but — and this is the part I hate to admit — he was right and the changes made it stronger again. So, thanks as always, Michael.

Fico Ossio: I knew I was gonna be doing this after “Revolution” early on. I wasn’t even finished with issue one when David sent me the pitch. I was glad to know I would have more issues to work on with all these characters. I’m having a great time with “Revolution” and five issues felt too short for all the things I wanted to bring to this new universe.

I got to read the pitch just before traveling to the SDCC and there I had a chance to hang with John and talk about it. The pitch is fantastic, and I can’t wait to start working on it. Well, we already are. John wanted to update a character, Blackrock, so we got the chance to re-design it with him and David and I think it turned out great! You get a sneak peek of him on this cover, but there´s more to him.

I think “Revolutionaries” is the next logical step after “Revolution.” That book brings all the universes together, and it’s the story on how that happens. “Revolutionaries” is a book where that’s been established and we can now
“play” with this shared universe. It’s definitely a step forward.

What brings the Revolutionaries together? Did, say, the Transformers or G.I. Joe suggest their respective members, or did they volunteer?

Barber: There’s an event in the country of Kalistan — which is a deep cut for G.I. Joe fans — that mutates a bunch of people. G.I. Joe sends in a team to investigate, but the event occurred at a facility owned by a British company, so Action Man beats them there and — as we’ll see in “Action Man: Revolution” — Kup is hanging out with Action Man at this point. So those two worlds collide, and Garrison Blackrock — who’s a Steve Jobs-style industrialist — was involved because at the center of it all is an ancient artifact he thinks can help him learn about his Cybertronian heritage. Because, oh yeah, Blackrock is actually a Cybertronian who’s had memories implanted to think he’s human.

Once they all wind up together, without giving everything away, a series of events occur that draw the four principle characters in, and that opens up a mystery — what is this artifact code-named The Talisman? — and that draws all the other Hasbro characters into their orbit. Every answer asks a new question that makes the story more personal and — in terms of the universe — more expansive.

From a visual perspective, will they have a traditional team look?

Barber: Oh, man — is it too late to get Kup and everybody in matching tights?

Ossio: Tights? Umm — I could go with that, but, you know, blue and yellow is taken. We would have to think different colors!

No, seriously — I don’t think it’s gonna be that obvious, but I do try to bring them all closer in their look. I sort of give them all an update on their original designs without going too far. You can get an idea with Action Man on this cover. The suit is still the same but it has more of an armor feel to it. I do the same with Scarlett and Anaya. Same with the weaponry. I feel the book is sci-fi, so on that note, I try to bring them closer to that genre and to a cohesive look between them.

The cast includes Action Man, Blackrock, Mayday and Kup. What do each of them offer the squad?

Barber: Action Man is this young guy, Ian Noble, who’s just had to step into the role of his dead predecessor. So he’s very skilled, but pretty new to the world of international intrigue and alien invasions. He has youth and a hope to him, but his best friend turned out to be his arch-villain, Doctor X, and she’ll have a role to play, too. We’ll establish the stage on which the big villain groups operate around the world. Ian still thinks he might be able to get Doctor X back to his side.

Mayday thinks that’s dumb and more than a little sexist, actually; the big male hero thinking he can fix the lady villain (or “villain” from Doctor X’s point of view). Mayday is Ayana Jones from the Earth Defense Command, the group that was set up to combat Cybertronians on Earth, but which was subsumed into G.I. Joe during Revolution. We see her as Mayday in Revolution — she was second-in-command of the E.D.C., and she’s in command of a G.I. Joe team. She’s got experience, and she’s very comfortable around giant robots and monsters from space — this is where she’s lived for the past several years. But when given the chance to be in charge, something goes very wrong. It’s not her fault, but she still has something to prove — or she thinks she does, anyway.

Blackrock is a tech CEO who was using Cybertronian technology to build his company, Onyx. He believed he was the descendant of the ancient hero, Gilgamesh — so he was always a bit arrogant… and then he found out his entire life was a memory implant and he was actually a Cybertronian sleeper agent named Sovereign, placed by the ancient leader Onyx Prime. Which messed with his head a little. And after some consternation, he has to make a choice: Is he with Earth, or with this ancient Cybertronian? He picks Earth, but there’s a sword of Damocles over him that the Sovereign personality could reassert itself — that he could become somebody he doesn’t think he is. But, practically, what makes him useful to the team is he has a lot of knowledge about Cybertron’s influence on Earth (he was a big collector of historic objects) and he’s able to change from human form to robot-mode — he’s the size of a person, but metal and chock-full of space weapons.

Kup’s one of the oldest Cybertronians around — he’s an old warrior who’s been messed with a lot. Another Autobot, Prowl, messed around with his head quite a bit, then a few years ago Kup got sucked into a vortex and sent to a delightful place called “the Dead Universe,” but he got sent back to the beginning of time. So he spent an extraordinarily long time in this other universe, not able to die owing to the properties of the place. Cybertronians casually live for millions of years, Kup’s lived for billions. So he has this level of separation from everybody else. He puts on a happy-go-luck exterior, but he feels alone, even among Cybertronians. And now he feels like he’s got his own team he can help train, and help get into shape. He doesn’t care if they’re human or whatever — he like being around the youth they represent, and he’s got a massive amount of history built into his mind.

Tradd Moore's cover for "Revolution" #5

Tradd Moore’s cover for “Revolution” #5

What role does the team play in the larger IDW/Hasbro Universe?

Barber: The Revolutionaries are a point of intersection between everybody. All the other characters will show up here for big, meaningful appearances. This is a comic that’s going to absolutely take advantage of every piece of world-building we’ve established, plus we’ll bring in a whole lot more.

This isn’t a history lesson, and we don’t dwell too much on old continuity. You definitely don’t have to come in here knowing anything about the comics, but if you are a long-time fan, I think there’s some stuff that’s going to be particularly rewarding. We’ll see what happened to G.I. Joe and Cobra between the last series and Revolution. We’ll see Rom interacting with G.I. Joe after… well, I guess that’s a spoiler.

But the big mystery at the core of “Revolutionaries” touches on so many things. It isn’t just that the revelations are big, but the characters who are involved will really establish the boundaries of the world that all these stories take place in.

It sounds like this series will balance the ongoing story in the works as well as one-off team-ups. What are some of the early examples of the latter that will show up early in the series?

Barber: My shorthand for “Revolutionaries” while we were putting it together was “Marvel Team-Up” meets “Planetary.” There’s a large-scale story at play, but everything that’s uncovered sends our Revolutionaries into somebody else’s backyard. So right off the bat, we get the unusual crossover of Rom versus the Oktober Guard from G.I. Joe (which includes Major Bludd!). That leads to the Revolutionaries calling in the Micronauts to help against the new Storm Shadow. There’s a flashback — an important flashback, not just a tossed-off story — to the original G.I. Joe, Joe Colton (who’s running the Joe team in Revolution) and his old group, the Adventure Team, versus Soundwave from Transformers. We might see some links back to some fan-favorite comics from the past that maybe people didn’t think we’d be revisiting.

On that note, this book will introduce some new characters into the IDW Hasbro-verse. Do you all have some personal favorite deep-cuts you’re looking to bring to the party?

Barber: Well, the first issue reprints — for the first time — the Joe Kubert “Sgt. Savage and His Screaming Eagles” G.I. Joe mini-comics. That’s a set of characters I don’t really have a personal connection with, those came out while I was, let’s say, between ages where I was into G.I. Joe toys. I don’t know what people think of those characters, but it’s really bonkers stuff. I mean, they had little in-pack comics and they got Joe Kubert to write, draw, color and letter them. The legendary Joe Kubert! The premise of Sgt. Savage is pretty nuts, but within that storyline is a group called I.R.O.N. — the International Robotic Operations Network — who show up in issue one of “Revolutionaries.” Meanwhile, in “G.I. Joe Extreme,” there was the Iron Klaw, and in “Action Force” there was Baron Ironblood. Is there a connection?!?

Ossio: I’m quite excited to draw these new, re-designed characters we did with John and David. I think it’s gonna be fully exploited in a great way. Plus it’s got these cool things to his design. I wanted to be very rational on how these characters were supposed to look and how to make that work, so I can’t wait to play with that on the page.

What’s it been like, making these somewhat disparate characters in size, scope and shape work together on the page?

Barber: Man, Fico is so good at doing this, I don’t even think about it anymore when I write. I mean, maybe I never did, but I was just careless. Now I know Fico will pull off the impossible.

Ossio: In a word? Challenging! Especially due to the script and the whole notion of what’s happening with the combined universes. John gives me these amazing scripts and you have to make it work! Otherwise, what’s the point of it if at the end it doesn’t look great? So yeah, it was challenging but also I got to figure it out early on with the double spread cover for Revolution’s prelude. It’s difficult because you got these three very different sizes of characters. And you must not only have them all in the same scene, but each has to look good and like a main character.

When I started coming up with ideas on how to make it work, I decided to use those differences to my advantage. For example, having G.I. Joes gives you a chance to make the Transformers look really big and imposing. And at the same time, it does set the Joes up to look like real bad asses going toe-to-toe against these huge mechanical aliens. And having the six inch Micronauts is where it gets really interesting and provides the opportunity to have all sorts of crazy angles or close ups on otherwise regular situations.

At first I struggled with it, but now I can say I’m really enjoying it! In any case, I’m just happy to survive each crazy double page John throws at me!

All around, how has it been taking these often beloved characters, putting a new spin on them and putting them together in this newly cohesive universe?

Barber: First and foremost, I want to tell a story about our characters; about what they’re going through, what they’re striving for and reaching or failing to reach. I mean, that’s number one. But I’ve gained a bit of a reputation in the Transformers comics for pulling in old bits of continuity and disparate pieces of storytelling and weaving them into the story — again, not in a way where you have to know this stuff, but where if you do know it, you’ll see a cohesive universe; and if you don’t know it, you’ll be able to dig deeper.

I hadn’t really thought of it before, but I guess the Grant Morrison written “Batman” stuff is an influence in the sort of “what if all this stuff actually happened to these characters” kind of a way. It’s been a dream come true getting to work in the same universe as the other great creators working on these other series.

Ossio: It’s been amazing. It’s also a dream come true for me, but in a different way. “Revolution” was a huge break for me. It was the first time I got to work with all these characters, and in a big way — maybe the biggest. To have this book as a follow up is very rewarding. I couldn’t ask for more! Working with John on “Revolution” is great, he’s a fantastic writer, and now that I met him at SDCC I can say is a super cool dude. The whole team at IDW is a pleasure to work with. They are the best!

Plus, I’m an ’80s kid, so I used to watch all these cartoons and play with all these toys. To be able to redefine them visually and to bring these fantastic stories to the page has been nothing short of awesome and surreal.

IDW’s “Revolutionaries” #1, by John Barber and Fico Ossio, arrives in December.

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