Comic-Con 2011: Transformers roundup

by: Austin Welch

transformer_logoAll the Cybertronian news out of con that’s fit to print!

Okay, I realize that it’s now several days after Comic-Con 2011, and that all the big Transformers fansites reported the various news out of the big show same-day, but I’m going to do some of the more casual fans out there a favor and wrap it all up in one easy-to-digest package, and comment on a few things along the way.  There were three major panels involving Transformers, including IDW’s Hasbro-licensing panel (which also included G.I. Joe and Dungeons & Dragons), Shout! Factory’s Evolution Of Transformers animation panel, and Hasbro Studios’ Transformers: Prime showcase.  Let’s take ‘em one by one, shall we?

IDW’s Transformers comics
IDW Publishing has maintained the Transformers license for about six years now, and despite the arguable hit-and-miss quality to their work, they seem to be doing just fine with the license economically, and Hasbro seems to be just fine with what they’re doing with the characters.  I myself, a lifelong reader of Transformers comics,  have not exactly been bowled over with what the various writers and story editors have done in recent years and months, but occasionally they produce something that lives up to the title.  I like what Mike Costa has done with the Autobots (particularly Prowl), and am looking forward to certain subplots playing out in the year or so to come.

IDW has been building to an event story arc called Chaos (with art by our good friend Livio Ramondelli, see my interview with him here), which drops this summer. That, in turn, leads to a single event book #125, so numbered because it is the 125th book in the IDWverse, and the company seems to be implying that they are unifying all the various (inter-related) miniseries into one true timeline.  The title of #125 is The Death Of Optimus Prime.  That’s right.  They’re doing it again.  Can’t say I’m all that excited about such a prospect.  The big guy’s died how many times in the various Transformers universes over the last 27 years?  It’s been done.  I realize that there are interesting stories to be told, and interesting characters to develop, in the absence of Op, but I feel that most writers haven’t done Optimus full justice in dealing with the myriad issues that come along with leadership of the Autobots.  Not terribly excited about this storyline.  This event will parlay into not one, but two ongoing G1-based books, Robots In Disguise, and More Than Meets The Eye.  It seems that one will focus more on Cybertron, and the other on the group of Autobots that remain on Earth, in an apparent attempt to appease both sides of the debate as to whether Transformers stories should involve humans or not.

transformers-81-idwLastly, and most importantly for this grizzled old TFs vet, the big bomb that was dropped at this panel was the confirmation that the company would go forward with the proposed continuation of the classic 1980s Marvel Comics run of stories, beginning with #81 (the original series ended at #80 in the spring of 1991).  It’s happening!  This, despite asking fans to compile a petition of at least 10,000 signatures, which sits in the 2,700 range, last I checked.  So why are they going forward with it?  In this writer’s opinion, because they always planned to.  According to a two-part interview with writer Simon Furman – who will be returning to the book alongside his friend and artist Andrew Wildman after a twenty-year lapse – he’d had discussions with IDW’s elite as early as mid-2010 to restart the book, but the impending third live action movie, which calls for comic tie-ins, forced IDW to postpone the idea “indefinitely”, or at least until they got through the live-action maelstrom, and figured out where their G1verse was going.  But all that matters little now.  It’s happening!  To temper my excitement, I must also reveal that there is a planned arc from #81 thru #100, and then it will end.  The idea is to give Furman a chance to wrap up any and all storylines he’d had in motion back in ’91.  My theory is that IDW is afraid the book will tank, and don’t want to commit to any more than 20 issues, but, if it somehow exceeds all expectations, and sells like gangbusters, don’t be surprised if it continues beyond that point.  So while I’m disappointed that there will be a cap at #100, it’s better than nothing.  It’s happening!  I dare say, this is one of the best things that has happened to comics – in general, not just with Transformers -  in recent years.  Oddly, this notion was met not only with much enthusiasm within certain pockets of TransFans, but resistance in others.  An impromptu poll at IDW’s panel at this year’s BotCon showed that more folks in the crowd wanted a continuation of the Animated comic than the Furmanverse.  Personally, I chock this up to a large number of newer fans having never read Furman’s work, or at least weren’t around to read those books when they were new, and therefore have a hard time focusing on them in the glut of Transformers stories competing for their attention in the years hence.  Ah, who gives a flying fart anyway?  IT’S HAPPENING!!

Shout! Factory’s Evolution Of Transformers
The cynic in me knew before going in that this panel was little more than one big infomercial for all the recently-released Transformers animation DVDs released by the reissue company, including the original G1 series, Beast Wars, and the Takara Collection, including Headmasters, the first of the three Japanese series released so far.  Brian Ward from Shout! Factory, Hasbro Studios’ Matt Proulx and Hasbro’s Rik Alvarez. each spoke, giving bits of history and commentary on the various series, and how they related to the toyline during its first fifteen years.  Not a whole lot of new information here, but it was fun.  Shout gave away vouchers for the yet-to-be-released Takara Collection – which will consist of all three Japanese-exclusive late-80s series Headmasters (now out on DVD), Super God Masterforce, and Victory – to a few lucky fans who answered trivia questions.

The Making Of Transformers: Prime and Transformers: The Ride
With the launch of The Hub, Hasbro’s fledgling cable channel run in conjunction with Discovery Channel, the fine maker of plastic robots saw fit to produce a new CGI animated series, Transformers: Prime.  For all intents and purposes, it’s a cartoon version of the live-action movies, but based on things said at the Comic-Con panel, and in the press room afterward, it really seems like Hasbro Studios is pushing for the show to maintain its own life outside of the films.  While the look of the characters is more or less based on those in the film, there are some differences, and new characters – both Cybertronian and human – have been introduced, in an effort to give the show its own identity.

transformers-primeHasbro Studios’ Mike Vogel, show runner Jeff Kline, producer Roberto Orci, and story editor Duane Capizzi, among others, gave the audience a rundown of how the show was created, from the original idea on through to the plans for season two.  Their plan was, in this writer’s opinion, a smart one.  Rather than overwhelm the audience with heavy stories right away, they concentrated on character development, and will gradually work toward longer story arcs and epic storytelling.   If this plan sounds familiar, it’s more or less what Mainframe did with Beast Wars, which proved to be wildly popular.  Season One of Transformers: Prime will end with a five-part arc, and Season 2, which will feature arcs throughout, will begin with another five-parter.  At the panel, we were teased with some Season 2 footage, including the allusion to a new character who will provide antagonism to the proceedings.  An evil-laughing face was revealed quickly, and if Ihad to guess, I’d say it could have either been Unicron, or his herald The Fallen.  Or maybe I’m wrong, and it’s Alpha Trion’s evil twin.

universal-studios-transformers-rideBefore the Prime panel ended, we were treated to a guest presentation from a higher-up at Universal Studios, who basically explained what the Transformers: The Ride attraction, which opens at Universal Studios Hollywood in the spring of 2012, will entail.  Seriously, he took us through it, as if a friend was explaining it in great detail after riding it.  He then showed us a few moments of footage from the ride, and I have to say, it looks pretty awesome.  You, as the guest, are recruited to be a member of N.E.S.T., and are teamed up with the Autobot Evac – essentially a new character using a name Hasbro has had copyrighted and used on different toys for years – to retrieve a lost piece of the AllSpark.  Of course, there will be an Evac toy (he’s a cool-looking, futuristic blue car), but he will not be exclusive to the park; Hasbro plans to release him to stores like a normal toy.

And that’s the lowdown.

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