Schmidt Brings Order to "Transformers: Chaos"

Since the very first issue of IDW Publishing's ongoing "Transformers" series, change has been the name of the game. The series debuted with the death of Ironhide and Optimus Prime's resignation as leader of the heroic Autobots, as well as Prime's surrender to the hostile human military. The core series has explored the ramifications of this decision, which extend beyond the eternal war between Autobots and Decepticons into geopolitical conflicts, the role of leadership, interpersonal dilemmas and more -- plus, giant robots fighting in every issue. Following the events of "Revenge of the Decepticons" in the ongoing and two miniseries penned by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, "Heart of Darkness" and the IDW license crossover "Infestation," "Transformers" will go biweekly from July through December for the colossal "Chaos" event, which takes place both on Earth and on the Transformers' homeworld of Cybertron and brings together many story threads that have been building since the series began. The event will feature the talents of ongoing series writer Mike Costa, "Last Stand of the Wreckers" scribe James Roberts, and artists Alex Milne, Guido Guidi, Casey Coller, Livio Ramondelli, and Brendan Cahill. CBR News spoke with editor Andy Schmidt about "Chaos," the direction of "Transformers," and the jump to issue #125.

Galvatron featured prominently in the recent "Infestation" and current "Heart of Darkness" miniseries, and Schmidt said that this villain will be the big threat for the "Chaos" story arc, as well. "He's hell bent on going to their homeworld, which has been all but deserted recently, and destroying it. The problem is, no one really understands why he's amassed a huge army to help him destroy the planet -- after all, it's his home, too," he told CBR. "That's the core conflict and the core mystery surrounding this massive onslaught. Optimus Prime and his crew are fighting against time and a more powerful foe while they hunt down the key to the mystery. 

"And of course, nothing will ever be the same again!"

"Chaos" will represent the convergence of the ongoing series with the more galactic events of "Infestation" and "Heart of Darkness" -- both written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning -- but readers who have only been following the core book will not have to play catch-up. "The ongoing series has been taking place for the most part on Earth, while Dan and Andy's two series are really going on in outer space. With 'Transformers' #20 and 'Heart of Darkness' #4, we've got one scene that overlaps both books, as they come out in the same month. So readers who have followed one series but not the other are perfectly fine going into the 'Chaos' event. And all is made clear. From that point, everything 'Transformers' is in the bi-weekly ongoing series from July all the way through December -- I told you big stuff is happening!"

Beyond allowing writers Mike Costa and James Roberts, along with artists Alex Milne, Guido Guidi, Casey Coller, Livio Ramondelli and Brendan Cahill to tell an epic story over a shorter period of time, Schmidt said that going biweekly "is just more exciting." "It's a big, fast-paced story with lots of action, huge character beats and turning points, and accelerating the publishing schedule just makes it feel that much more like a roller coaster ride! It's all about the fun!"

Following "Prelude to Chaos" in July's "Transformers" #21 written by Mike Costa, James Roberts will pen the two-part "Chaos Theory" in #22-23. Roberts, with only a few comic book credits to his name, gained a vocal and enthusiastic following among "Transformers" fans with "Last Stand of the Wreckers," a 2010 miniseries featuring less well-known Autobots and Decepticons. "James has tremendous grasp of the characters -- even the minor ones. And with that, he also grasps the history of the characters," Schmidt said. "What that allows him to do very well is write the characters in such a way that you, as a reader, even if you're reading them for the first time -- you'll feel like you've always known who they are. 

"In some cases, this kind of knowledge can trip a writer up because it can be confusing for a new reader, but James is very skilled at using that history and continuity to actually invite a new reader in and almost automatically make a book about giant robots feel like home."

IDW's "Transformers" ongoing series, the first since the end of Marvel's continuity in 1991, launched in 2009, preceded by the sixteen-issue "All Hail Megatron" and several minis before that. Asked where the Cybertronians' epic would stand after the events of "Chaos," Schmidt said that the shake-up would be complete. "The status of Cybertron itself is going to be different. The status of the Transformers as a race is going to be different. The status between Cybertronians and humans is completely different. The 'Transformers' status quo is changed on every level by the end of this event, and what that does is open up incredible new story possibilities. And new themes to explore.

"We've spent a lot of time in the last two years focusing on what Optimus Prime sees in Earth -- the value he sees here. And after 'Chaos,' that's not where the focus is going to be for a while. In fact, part of 'Chaos' is a story titled 'The Last Story on Earth,' and there's a reason for that."

Beginning with "Transformers" #24, the series will alternate between episodes of "Chaos" written by Costa and Roberts with art by Livio Ramondelli in even-numbered issues, and in odd, "The Last Story on Earth," written by Costa alone and illustrated by Brendan Cahill. (The event as a whole is also titled "Chaos.") Schmidt said the event would bring into focus many of the themes that Costa had been working with since the ongoing series began. "Mike has been writing about the theme of change. We've got these giant robots that literally change as part of who they are -- and yet they've been locked in the same war for over a million years." the editor explained. "What Optimus Prime realized back in the first issue is that humans have the ability to change their minds, their perspective. We, as a race, have the ability to evolve in a way the Transformers haven't. This theme is the central conflict between Optimus Prime and Megatron, and Prime has tried a lot of different tactics to urge his Autobots to change. And some have worked and some have backfired. Optimus has a lot on his mind, and it's all boiling to the surface right now!"

Some of the "Transformers" universe's most familiar artists will be tackling episodes of the "Chaos" event, including Alex Milne, Guido Guidi and Casey Coller, but newcomers Livio Ramondelli and Brendan Cahill will also have a role to play. "I always look for variety in my artists and writers," Schmidt said. "Livio brings a stunning painterly look to his work that really stands out in what IDW has done as something new. 'Transformers,' for the last ten years or so in comics, has generally looked fairly mecha-like. Livio's art breathes some freshness into it. He's also a huge 'Transformers' fan. Brendan, on the other hand, does more traditional pencils and inks. Again, the art in 'Transformers' has focused on cool robots, and in Brendan, he draws cool robots, but his people and environments feels so real and they emote so well, he brings something else that's been largely missing lately. I think they're both wonderful and complimentary choices for this massive epic."

Schmidt told CBR "it feels great" to reach the culmination of everything that's been happening in the series to date. "One of the really great things has been watching the core fanbase slowly start to 'get it.' With every issue, I see more and more people click the big picture into focus and they see that this book about alien robots is really about us," he said. "It's saying something about who we are and it's not just a villain of the month type of book. It's been great to see that core fandom turn and really enjoy what they're reading on a different level.

"And as 'Chaos' moves forward, any who haven't clicked into it yet, will. There are a ton of little threads that tie together very organically here. Mike and I started out with a two year plan -- and this is basically it. This is the Battle for Cybertron!"

After the conclusion of "Chaos" in December's "Transformers" #31, the final issue of 2011 will be "Transformers" #125 -- the story title and writer and artist names for the issue were marked "encrypted" on the information IDW provided to CBR. "No, it doesn't combine IDW's numbering with Marvel's," Schmidt said, "but that would be pretty fun to do." Rather, "we jump to issue #125 to make a statement about where the franchise has been and where it is headed. The numbering is significant in a couple of different ways -- not all of them are readily apparent, yet."

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