Behind the Fall of an Autobot

The following article contains SPOILERS about the upcoming "Transformers" ongoing comic series,

As revealed yesterday in an exclusive preview here at CBR, IDW Publishing's first "Transformers" ongoing series in half a decade will kick off with the death of Ironhide, a veteran Autobot and one of Optimus Prime's most trusted officers. Ironhide, who transforms into a red van, was one of the original line of Transformers toys from Hasbro, released before the "Robots in Disguise" concept had been finalized. His robot form in that original toy left space for a human pilot, differing significantly from what was later seen on the cartoon. CBR News spoke with editor Andy Schmidt about the decision to kill a character with such a long history and the ramifications for the rest of the cast.

"Transformers" #1, written by Mike Costa with art by Don Figueroa, picks up three years after the events of the recently concluded "All Hail Megatron" maxi-series. Most of the Decepticons have left Earth, Megatron is believed dead, and onetime Autobot ally, Spike Witwicky, is hunting all Transformers, good and evil alike, for the government. His attitude reflects the sentiment of most humans, who watched as a war between robots ravaged the planet. Optimus Prime and his crew live in hiding, but they can't hide forever.

Regarding the decision to announce Ironhide's death in advance of the issue's ship date, Schmidt said that IDW had considered not discussing the death at all in promoting the new series, but saw compelling reasons to tip their hat. "We realized that we need to let people know why this book is important. And no, it's not that a major character dies (although that is a big deal in and of itself) but even more so, what effect Ironhide's demise has on the rest of the Transformers cast and universe," Schmidt said.

"I honestly don't remember whose idea it was [to kill Ironhide], but ultimately I had to run it by Hasbro to see if they were down with it. Rightfully, they were cautious, like with killing Jinx over in 'G.I. Joe,' but once they saw the story impact and the possibilities for great stories and poignant ones, they signed off enthusiastically," the editor added. "Working with Hasbro is great in that regard. As a group, they're able to take risks and be a part of the creative process in a very positive way.

"So I essentially suggested the story elements, and Hasbro signed off on it. Then Mike and Don had to make the scene come to life and really carry the weight that it needs to carry. And, man, they did that in spades."

Given that Transformers are living machines, the concept of death seems as though it may carry some ambiguity, but Schmidt said that what exactly death means for a robot is "exactly something that we're going to be exploring in depth very soon."

"They're cars, right? So you can just fix them up and get 'em back on the road. That's not really the case with Transformers," Schmidt explained. "And believe it or not, we've actually worked a lot of this out. One of the things that's great about Transformers is that they are so very like human beings in terms of personality and conflict and feelings, but also, they're giant robots - cybernetic organisms. That allows us to tell stories that speak to the human condition from a very different perspective.

"I don't want to make it sound like we're getting all philosophical all the time, but we are going there from time to time. Will there be lots of action? Sure. Big robots gotta wrestle, but we're also going a bit deeper from time to time too. And Ironhide's death - and the meaning of death to Transformers - really becomes a huge part of the stories we're telling."

Though the film and newer animated series occasionally mentioned the Allspark, which may be a sort of nirvana or heaven, Schmidt clarified that this would not play into the Autobots' spiritual quests. "We haven't really addressed the AllSpark in the IDW comics continuity. Here, the Transformers all have a Spark which is somewhat like the notion of a soul. Once you lose it, can you get it back?"

While Hotrod's brash actions could be seen to contribute to Ironhide's death, Schmidt tells CBR that the Autobot's teammates would not place undue blame on him. "As it turns out, these are Autobots and it would be contrary to most of their core characters for them to go stark-raving mad because the field leader at the time was on duty," the editor said. "Remember, they've been fighting a war for thousands of years. They understand how death happens. And now that that war is over, they're going to be doing new things - trying new adventures and asking different questions."

As to what those adventures and questions might entail, the events of the series' first issue leave the field wide open. "What we've got are Autobots with no place on Earth. They'd like to help rebuild after the crushing destruction to Earth during 'All Hail Megatron,' but Earth wants nothing to do with them," Schmidt said. "Autobot and Decepticon alike brought their war to Earth. So there is no real difference to the humans - any robot is a bad robot."

This perspective is where Spike's role comes in. "Spike's a bit more adult than he was in the classic cartoon. He's a military man and he leads a combat group called Skywatch that tracks and captures any and all Transformers," the editor explained. "He's got a rage in him against all the Transformers because of what they did to Earth, and even though the rebuilding process has gone well, the emotional scars heal much slower. And that is going to be a big part of what our new series is all about.

"So it puts the Autobots in a very awkward position on the planet. Which causes some of them to ask the obvious question: If the humans don't want us here, why don't we just leave? And the answer to that question will come in a very unusual way.

"And yes, most Decepticons are off Earth, but not all of them. The war as it has been fought for centuries is over. It seems it's time for some new strategies. Some new ideas."

"Transformers" #1 hits stores November 18, 2009.

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