McCarthy Hails Megatron at IDW

American moviegoers may be in a holding pattern when it comes to the next silver screen installment of Hasbro's popular Transformers franchise, but in the meantime Trans fans engaged in the comic book adventures of the robots in disguise spent their summers watching the Energon hit the fan in the pages of IDW Publishing’s All Hail Megatron!

The 12-issue series whose fourth installment hit comic shops last week returns the primary focus of the Transformers franchise to the Autobot/Decepticon battle on Earth. However, this time around, the game has changed significantly. While Optimus Prime and the Autobot forces are mostly damaged and disheartened on the burned-out remnants of Cybertron, Megatron and the Decepticons have launched a full-scale assault on Earth, toppling New York City and terrorizing the earth's population in a bid to establish supreme control over the planet.

IDW's shift in its present day series from tales connected to the characters' space roots by classic Transformers writer Simon Furman to earth-bound battles and the twist of a large-scale coming out for the robots no-longer-in disguise resulted in a variety of vocal reactions from fans.

It’s been wild, All Hail writer Shane McCarthy told CBR. There’s a lot of people that are absolutely loving the book and singing its praises, whilst there’s also a bunch of fans that actually reacted heatedly to the sudden change, both of which I love. The biggest gripes seem to have been the sudden change in status quo and the sudden change in style. Simon and I are very different writers with very different voices and for a lot of fans that was a bit of a shock.

I knew from day one that this was going to piss some people off,” confessed McCarthy, who teams with artist Guido Guidi on the book. “I had no doubt. But what I love is the passion and commitment the fans have to the characters. Transformer fans are more vocal than most other fans and more power to them. They’re showing their dedication in whatever way they know how.

The story of All Hail Megatron divides its time between two fronts with the first issues focusing mostly (as the title would suggest) on the Decepticons' unstoppable ransacking of America's greatest city. Since we always knew we were going to be heading in a new direction with a new perspective I decided that, if that was going to be the case, I wanted to do it all guns blazing and really make an impact,” McCarthy explained. “That meant bringing in a host of the major players and slapping them into the one location -- unfortunately for America that happened to be New York City.

While the city's buildings have toppled to the ground and the U.S.A.'s military forces have proven unable to stop the onslaught, McCarthy hinted that dissention in the Decepticon ranks will remain a perpetual problem for the new overlord of Manhattan, particularly in the form of a certain squeaky-voiced fighter jet. The Megatron/Starscream dynamic is so incredibly important to the mythos that you can’t just wander in and be haphazard about it, the Australian scribe remarked. That being said, I absolutely hated the way those guys were in the cartoon. Actually, that’s wrong, I didn’t hate it, I hated that it didn’t go anywhere. There was Starscream continually whining and never actually manning up. I’d always wonder how he could get away with bickering and complaining so much without being bumped off by either Megatron or one of the hungry up and comers. I’ve formulated a particular reason why; I’m adding a distinctly new take on the Megatron/Starscream dynamic but one that incorporates all of the other versions prior to it to a certain extent.

Like I said before, I wanted to ask what was the worst thing that could happen and, for Megatron, I think that’s actually winning. You’ve got a race of bloodthirsty killers and then all of a sudden no real opposition. What do you do? Starscream’s motivations play an immense part in this series. Will we see some backstabbing and undermining? Yes. But not in the way you might expect.

One important element of the series for fans familiar with any iteration of the Transformers mythos is the inclusion in All Hail Megatron of the first Witwicky family member to make an appearance in the IDW line. This time around, readers met a new version of Dan Sparkplug Witwicky — the patriarch of the family of humans who befriended the Autobots in the original animated series — this time cast as an Army general tasked with fighting the Decepticon threat.

I’m having a hell of a lot of fun writing Sparkplug, I really am,” McCarthy confessed. “Whilst he has a lot in common with previous versions of the character there’s some distinct differences too. He’s quite a gruff, no nonsense kind of guy but has a profound respect for his men and real love for his family. He’s got a dry sense of humour and doesn’t shy away from taking the piss out of people either.

I grew up around the military, both my parents were in the army, and, whilst I’m an incredibly liberal guy with no love of war, he’s a guy that makes sense to me on a lot of levels. I’ve got a lot planned for Sparkplug and his family but all I’ll say is it doesn’t involve hardhats and yellow boots.

And with Sparkplug stepping up in the series, it's usually a safe bet that the Autobots won't be far behind, but as All Hail Megatron #4 revealed, the heroes of the universe may have a harder time getting themselves together than expected. I held out as long as I could before revealing just what the Autobots have been up to this whole time, the writer explained. To me, this was all about getting into the hearts of these characters and asking what was the worst thing that could happen? In the case of the Autobots, it’s about unity, trust and hope.

The Autobots have, effectively, lost the Great War because of one of their own. I mean they were slaughtered galaxy-wide, we’re not talking a little defeat here — they had their arses handed to them. The war has raged for millions of years and now there’s been a sudden shift of power because an Autobot has betrayed them and Megatron had the foresight to capitalize on it. Their biggest problem is they don’t know who or why.

Joining the ranks of classic Autobots like Jazz and Ratchet in the upcoming fifth issue of the series will be Drift, a brand new character who holds the distinction of being the very first Transformers character ever to make the jump from the comic page to the toy aisle, a distinction that had McCarthy pretty chuffed to say the least.

The original concept, though, was for an Autobot based on a Japanese drift racing car. He’d have Japanese overtones but, clearly, wouldn’t actually be Japanese since that really wouldn’t make any sense at all,” McCarthy said. “What I’m doing though is quietly tipping my hat the country that gave birth to these guys.”

Drift’s inclusion was not a forgone conclusion when initially pitched. This was hilarious because when I first thought of the character I sent [IDW Publisher] Chris Ryall an email suggesting we add him into the series. Chris initially refused saying Hasbro might not be up for it,” McCarthy explained. “I wasn’t too upset since --whilst Drift adds what I felt was a needed element to the story -- his role isn’t absolute. I sent Chris the character outline anyway for fun and he absolutely loved it. Since he really like the character Chris sent it on to Hasbro and we both readied ourselves for a refusal. Then the word came back that, not only did they want him in the series but that they wanted to make a toy out of him.

But of course, as All Hail Megatron rolls on, the creation of new toys will always play second for McCarthy and crew to that of spinning out high octane adventure stories. And for readers wavering on the new direction, the writer pointed forward as proof that the classic conflict at the heart of Transformers will remain engaging in the book's second act and beyond. It was always my intention to start this series slowly and to gradually pierce deeper into the hearts of our major players,” McCarthy said. “The way I see it is, when you first get to a party you don’t know anyone and you make simple judgment calls, ‘Oh she’s like this.’ ‘Oh he’s like that.’ But the longer you stay the more you realize, wonderfully, you’re usually full of shit and totally wrong in your assumptions. This is what I love about storytelling; gradual and deeper understanding.

So what’s coming? The fate of the Autobots, the fate of Optimus Prime, the inclusion of even more classic characters and, frankly, a whole lot of death and destruction. It’s a war after all.

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