The Future of "Transformers" & the Death of Optimus Prime

IDW Publishing and Hasbro held a press conference call Wednesday to present the future of "Transformers" comics -- a future that, it would appear, does not include the famed leader of the Autobots. Following the two-stream "Chaos" arc now running biweekly in the "Transformers" ongoing series, December will see a one-shot titled "The Death of Optimus Prime," after which the series will relaunch as two separate, ongoing series, "Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye" and "Transformers: Robots in Disguise." New IDW editor John Barber led the discussion, with Hasbro's Senior Global Publishing Manager Michael Kelly and IDW's Director of Marketing and Public Relations AnnaMaria White also on the call.

"IDW and Hasbro have had a great relationship on Transformers," Barber began. Later in the call, he also said that the "Transformers" comics have truly become "a Hasbro/IDW thing." "People get the impression some licensors are either not involved or have a negative effect," Barber said, but this relationship "is tremendous, and unlike anything I've seen in the past."

Kelly, from Hasbro, added, "We go into a partnership with IDW because we like what you do and you know what you're doing." He noted that, among other things, Hasbro gives the creative teams behind its comic book licenses considerable leeway in how they envision characters. "We sort of set that out there and said, go crazy, see what you can come up with. And they answered the call," Kelly said, quoting former "G.I. Joe" artist Robert Atkins as saying the only thing Hasbro ever unequivocally told him to change was "when I put a New York Yankees cap on Snake Eyes."

Barber then gave a brief history of the Transformers' continuity at IDW, noting that their story has spanned back to "dinosaurs and Dinobots," and even further into prehistory. "We've gone through a lot of different permutations of the war between the Autobots and Decepticons," he said, noting that things are changing once again in "Chaos," which follows battles in two distinct regions, Earth and the Transformers' home planet of Cybertron. Currently, Decepticon leader Megatron is a prisoner of the Autobots after surrendering -- for unknown reasons -- to Optimus Prime. With this latest development, as well as tumultuous events preceding it, "The Decepticons have been sort of scattered," Barber said, "but a new force lead by Galvatron is convinced that Cybertron is somehow the key" to the eternal struggle. Galvatron's plan, Barber said, is to destroy the planet. (Galvatron, it should be noted, is not an evolved Megatron in IDW continuity as he was in the original cartoon -- he is a separate character, evil, but not affiliated with the Decepticons.) This sets the Autobots on a "do or die mission, with the fate of the world at stake."

Meanwhile, back on Earth -- where Autobots have forged an uneasy alliance with humans after overthrowing the Decepticons' grip on the planet -- "the Autobots have discovered that their human allies are not what they seem." An investigation has revealed that Spike Witwicky, the Cybertronians' most trusted friend, "executed a Decepticon in cold blood," and there are further revelations to come about the paramilitary team monitoring the Transformers.

Showing several slides from upcoming issues, Barber showed a character that is at least informally being called the Deceptigod, which he described as "the ultimate version of [Transformers 'Combiners'] with all the Sweeps, all the Decepticons forming together into one enormous Transformer."

"That's going to pose quite a problem for the Autobots during 'Chaos,'" Barber said. "The one guy who might be able to stop the Deceptigod is Megatron -- or will this be Megatron's last stand?"

Another teaser image shows several space ships full of Cybertronian civilians -- that is, Transformers who are neither Autobot nor Decepticon -- "coming back to war-ravaged remains of Transformers society," Barber said.

Displaying the alternating art of Brendan Cahill ("Last Story on Earth" arc) and Livio Ramondelli (Cybertron arc), Hasbro's Kelly said, "It's really exciting to have both these art styles running at the same time."

Praising Mike Costa, who has written the entirety of the "Transformers" ongoing, Barber said, "Mike's been playing a long game with this story, with a lot of pieces that fall into place in 'Chaos.' But you don't need all the pieces to read 'Chaos.'" Alternating chapters of "Chaos" are co-written with James Roberts, who previously wrote "Last Stand of the Wreckers," which Barber described as "one of the fans' favorite Transformers series of all time."

Barber then revealed that, post-"Chaos," "James is going to end up writing one of the ongoings." "I'm going to be writing the other -- that was in place before I became editor," Barber joked. Barber, who has been an editor at IDW only since July, had previously written "Transformers" stories based primarily in the movie continuity. "I want to say publicly I did not fire Mike Costa and hire myself; Mike will still be doing lots of stuff with IDW, including 'Cobra.'"

Before that, Barber and Roberts will co-write the December one-shot "The Death of Optimus Prime," with art by Nick Roche. This replaces the previously-announced "Transformers" #125. Explaining the change, Barber said that the one-shot celebrates 125 issues of IDW continuity, but "we realized calling it 125 is needlessly confusing." Two covers to the issue were shown, one featuring Prime opening the leadership Matrix and the other a Ramondelli tribute to Bill Sienkewicz's cover to Marvel's original "Transformers" #1.

Following "The Death of Optimus Prime," Roberts and Roche will launch the new ongoing series, "Transformers: More than Meets the Eye," while Barber and artist Andrew Griffith will begin "Transformers: Robots in Disguise," also ongoing.

The two series will be related, with Barber saying that "James and I are working closely together."

Answering a question about digital releases, IDW's AnnaMaria White confirmed that "Transformers" omnibus editions will be offered through iBooks. Barber added, "We've already got at least one TF collection up on iBooks right now, and that's something we'll see more of." In addition, the "Transformers" comics are available on several other digital formats.

Given the long-established dynamics of the two Transformers factions, CBR News asked how Optimus Prime's death might affect the Autobots, distinct from how Megatron's might affect the Decepticons. "That's an interesting question," Barber said. "That's very much something that's going to be addressed in the series. As evil as Megatron's methods are, he kind of provides a direction for the Decepticons, without him they'd scatter a bit more. The Autobots are basically good Transformers, they put other people's interests at heart. If you were to have Megatron die, you'd have a free-for-all and a power grab." Noting that the Autobots' Hot Rod/Rodimus has chafed under authority and temporarily assumed leadership positions, Barber said, "Even Rodimus isn't doing it for a lust for power."

Barber added that readers will see the non-aligned Transformers asking themselves the same question, evaluating what each side really represents.

Asked how Prime's death could affect upcoming cartoon and movie story arcs, Barber reiterated that the comic book universe is entirely distinct from the others (though IDW also publishes comics in the movie continuity). Kelly added, "We very much do view this as a separate universe that can tell its own stories with continuity," and that Hasbro has no problem with the IDW continuity, which is based on the original '80s cartoon characters and toys, being completely different from movie universe.

"It's like when Bruce Wayne gets sent back through time in 'Batman;' it's not like Christopher Nolan has to do that in his next movie," Barber said.

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