Interview - John Barber Talks about the Fall of Cybertron and Bumblebee Spotlight Comics
IDW Publishing's ongoing "Transformers: Robots in Disguise," writer John Barber spoke with Comic Book Resources about his upcoming slate of "Transformers" comics, discussing how his three titles all fit into one "Transformers" continuity or another, be it the comic book universe or the recent video game release, which robotic protagonists are his favorite to write, what it's like switching gears from editing to writing and much more. Read the full interview now at comicbookresources.com
John, what's the gist of your new "Transformers" one-shots, "Spotlight: Bumblebee" and "Fall of Cybertron?"
In the ongoing "Transformers" comic I write, "Transformers: Robots in Disguise," Bumblebee has spent the past year building a new government on Cybertron. The war between Autobots and Decepticons is over, the Autobots won, but Optimus Prime was seen by the returning civilians as being a warrior, not a peacetime leader. So Prime left, and Bumblebee has been struggling with the mantle of leadership -- only to watch everything start to fall apart in the last couple issues.
"Spotlight: Bumblebee" jumps back about a year or so, to when Bee really took control of the Autobots. It's about him making the decisions he had to make to go from the fun little guy everybody likes to the leader who has to be ready to make tough decisions. David Daza drew the heck out of it -- he and I worked together on some "Transformers" toy in-pack comics a few years back.
Meanwhile, "Fall of Cybertron" is the print collection of the previously-digital-only story that leads right in to the "Fall of Cybertron" video game from Activision, High Moon Studios and Hasbro. It's about the Dinobots before they were Dinobots -- Grimlock leads his squad into the wilderness in the early(er) days of the Decepticon war. Dheeraj Verma, who did his first (but not last!) "Transformers" work on this project, supplied the crazy-intricate art!
How do these two stories tie in to the existing IDW "Transformers" continuity?
"Spotlight: Bumblebee" thematically ties in with what's happening in "Robots in Disguise" right now. "RID" is about Bumblebee's fall; "Spotlight: Bumblebee" goes back to his rise. It's very much a part of the ongoing comic book continuity of the "Transformers" comics we publish. You don't have to have read any of the other comics, but if you have, you'll see where it fits in to the ongoing tapestry.
"Fall of Cybertron" is part of the continuity of the video games and the "Prime" television show and the novels. The comic actually also leads in to our comic book series "Transformers Prime: Rage of the Dinobots," which bridges the gap between the game and the TV show.
Why do you think the character of Bumblebee has consistently stood out as popular across every iteration of "Transformers" lore? What's so special about a bright yellow car?
It's funny, isn't it? Even going back to the original issue #1 from 1984, he was the first Cybertronian to make contact with a human. That's where I really made a connection with him, and then in the '80s cartoon, he was the really friendly one, the one you identified with. Prime, you looked up to, but Bee was the one who'd be your friend.
I think it's that aspect that drives (er, no pun intended) his popularity through the films and the "Prime" TV show. He's a nice guy. So, I like putting him in a position where it's tough to make the nice-guy choices.
In "Fall of Cybertron," the Dinobots make an appearance. I can recall -- is this their first appearance in IDW "Transformers" continuity?
Well, I was a big proponent in bringing the Dinobots to the foreground again, after they'd kinda fallen off the radar for a little while. And obviously the video game guys had the same thought. But in the continuity of the comics we publish, no -- they've been around for a long time.
The "Fall of Cybertron" comic is in a different continuity, so that's a different world -- and the Dinobots, of course, made their debut there in the "Fall of Cybertron" video game. This comic is their earliest chronological appearance in that universe! And -- along with "Rage of the Dinobots" -- bridges the gap between the game and the "Prime" TV show.
You've also got a lot of cool stuff happening in your "Transformers" ongoing series, "Robots in Disguise," with a massive storyline reaching its payoff this spring. What's been going on in that title and what can fans expect in the next few months as Megatron plots his revenge?
Since issue #1 of "RID," we've been trying to establish a new status quo -- a difficult-to-maintain, tense, post-war peace. The idea has been, from the characters' points of view, to move past war -- to try to live together in some sort of harmony.
As you might guess, Megatron doesn't want that. He wants the old status quo -- he wants war, and he wants to win that war. It's a battle not of Autobot versus Decepticon, but of old versus new.
His plan, though, is big and brutal. The action gets bigger and bigger and just when you think it's as nightmarish as it can be -- it gets worse.
I can't say enough about how much my partner in crime on this, artist Andrew Griffith, is knocking this out of the park. The huge scale of the action plus the small intimate moments, Andrew nails it all. It's really important to have somebody like that on your side -- as gigantic as the action gets, the meat and potatoes of "RID" is intrigue, backstabbing and betrayal -- plus harsh emotional moments.
"Fall of Cybertron" is a prequel to the recent video game
How do you draw the line between staying true to a classic incarnation of a character and doing something unique when dealing with a licensed property that's had so many different versions?
It's really no different than with any other comic book series that has a 30-year history. Sometimes, it's like I'm doing with Bumblebee -- taking a character with established characteristics and forcing him into an uncomfortable situation so we can see how he'd react to it. Sometimes it's like the way we're playing Starscream, who's always been a schemer -- but we're playing up the idea that he might have learned a thing or two over the years. He might have a skill set that nobody else has.
I really like getting to play in the sandbox that so many other great minds have worked in and built up. I love looking at what they've established and thinking what would come next.
What stories or characters that have yet to be adapted into IDW continuity would you most love to see make an appearance in the IDW titles?
I'd love to get Bulkhead from "Animated" in there… it'd be fun to see some of the "Beast Wars" characters… actually, I have kinda an inside-track on some of that, so we might be seeing a little something sometime…
You also edit several IDW titles. When you switch over to writing, do you tend to try to make your first drafts look extra polished for your own editors or are you able to take off your editor hat completely?
I totally rely on my editor, Carlos Guzman, when I'm writing. I can't count the number of times he's come in and pointed to something and really found something that wasn't working -- and helped me get it to where it does work. Likewise, Hasbro -- and especially Michael Kelly, who I talk to about this stuff every day -- are always great to bounce ideas off of.
As to my actual drafts… writing's a totally different muscle-set. I try to not be sloppy in my scripts, but I don't know if they're any better or worse than other people's… I kinda don't mind getting a first draft in to Carlos where I haven't overworked it; where when he comes in with a fresh look at it, I don't mind pulling up some tracks.
But I try to look at my own stuff like an editor -- not get too wrapped up in what I want to work, as opposed to what is working.
Part of Barber's goal in writing the popular robot characters is to take Bumblebee and put him in difficult situations
What are your favorite "Transformer" characters to write? Are there any characters that have surprised you as more interesting than you thought they'd be as you were writing them?
Prowl was my first "Transformers" toy -- he's always been my favorite for that sentimental reason, but I really liked what Simon Furman, Nick Roche and James Roberts had done with him in the IDW universe. Mike Costa had him play a big role in the ongoing series that he wrote, and I loved Mike's take on him a lot. I thought all four of those guys wrote a character who demonstrated a lot of different facets of personality, but to me they all made sense together. So I really wanted to put him through the wringer in "RID." He's my favorite, so he should get the worst of it, right?
Arcee and Starscream have been my favorites to write, but a big part of both of them is that I know what they do in the next few issues, and that's always played a part in why they were doing what they were doing.
Blurr really forced himself to be a bigger player over the course of "RID." He was always there, but for some reason the idea of this fame-seeking athlete turned warrior really appealed to me in ways I hadn't expected.
What other projects do you have coming up?
Right now I'm continuing editing the other "TF" comics, and all I can say is that we have something really big and cool planned for later this year. I'm also editing "G.I. Joe," which I'm really excited about -- we're just re-launching the whole line with Fred Van Lente and Steve Kurth taking hold of the "G.I. Joe" series, and telling the story of the newly-public G.I. Joe team. On top of that, we have a spectacular "Dungeons & Dragons" series written by R.A. and Geno Salvatore and stunningly drawn by David Baldeon that I am extremely proud to be a part of. On top of that, well, we've got some more announcements coming soon, at least one of which will blow a lot of minds!
Finally, If you could transform in to any vehicle yourself, what would it be?
An orange 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit convertible. I think the reasons are self-evident, right?
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