NYCC 2015 - The Hasbro Transformers Generations Panel Report And Analysis
ExVee - Thursday, October 08, 2015
Thanks to lots of social media reporting tonight, we were able to bring you coverage of the Hasbro Transformers Generations panel as it happened at New York Comic Con. But in those brief, rapid updates it can be hard to really stop and take in what it all means. So we've gone back over it now, filling in some of the details that got glossed over, and giving a more complete look at what was said on stage. Keep reading!
First off, big thanks to Ben Yee for streaming the event live on Periscope, and diecast from Radio Free Cybertron and Anthony from TFU.info for additional information that made this report possible.
A recurring theme through the Hasbro presentation at the Generations panel was that of "deeper" storytelling. And what they seem to mean by that is a storyline that lasts more than a year or so before there's a wholesale overturn and a completely new thing launches. What they talked about at the panel seems to all stem out from that one point. To Hasbro's perspective, right now that is starting to be executed, with Transformers Devastation being seen internally as a tie-in to Combiner Wars, though going beyond the face of what they're saying, it's probably more like they think of it as "Transformers Generations: The Game". The comic events have already been working along this angle to make sure that media outlet is staying pretty well in step with where the brand is moving. And then there's Machinima. It all seems to be part of making a bigger experience, that even existing as separate entities can all be enjoyed together through the common points they all hold.
Comic fans may or may not be pleased to find that the event storylines aren't going anywhere soon. Titans Return will see all three main IDW writers, John Barber, James Roberts, and Mairghread Scott co-writing, which is as good as saying that The Transformers, More Than Meets The Eye, and Till All Are One are probably going to be absorbed in to the next storyline. Bringing together Combiner Wars and Titans Return as parts of the Prime Wars Trilogy not only points to the direction that comic storytelling will follow, but shows the current philosophy on the toy side of things. Each line seems now like it will, at least to some degree, be treated as a point of evolution from the prior one. The design team no longer wants to make everything a completely new and potentially unconnected style, but instead it seems like the goal is to use the successive lines to enrich what preceded them and give fans a longer period of time to enjoy an overall toy theme before it does transition to something else.
The Machinima series as it stands right now is being described based on the producer's previous work with Afro Samurai or Aeon Flux, just to go with the projects named during the panel. A much-repeated sentiment - in fact there were two - one repeated sentiment was that he wanted to deliver a kind of animated action that this part of the world was ready for, but hadn't experienced yet. The other was how Machinima's Combiner Wars was for adult fans. Talk of lasting consequences and no one being safe were somewhat used to punctuate and reinforce this view. Naturally this led to some quick and shared fan reaction of fears that this might end up being to Transformers what GI Joe Resolute was to that franchise. However, George Krstic spoke in such a way to give a sense that he's trying to exert his own influence and style on the project, which can hopefully temper some of the more extreme ideas that might otherwise come out of this. Krstic identified himself with his work on Clone Wars, but the crowd really responded when he mentioned Megas XLR. It's no surprise that a sensibility along the line of that series entered the hopes of many people when we learned Krstic was attached to this project. The producer made a point to mention that they wanted to be true to themselves as G1 fans, and while he acknowledged there are also new fans, the way it was said seemed to carry implications that not everyone might like.
The IDW comics are said to already be carrying the seeds of what will become the Titans Return story, much the same as combiners were being set up very early in the run of what was then Robots in Disguise. They're currently in the process of working together to lay out their blueprint for how Prime Wars will take shape and play out in the long term, apparently with early work on part three already being considered, though naturally all such details had to be withheld. What was interesting here was a comment about toy waves starting to be coordinated to the comics more, as another step of building a more immersive experience with the brand, giving a uniform, cohesive feel between comic and toys. Presumably this is meant in contrast to things like Dark Cybertron that felt very heavily influenced to the other direction, so hopefully we can expect a smoother and more natural integration of toy elements to the stories as we approach Titans Return. John Barber also took a moment to observe that both main titles are quickly coming up to their respective 50th issues, showing some amazement at the lifespan so far and praising the creative teams of both books for their accomplishments. John Warden spoke up at this point giving Barber a great deal of credit for doing so much to solidify the continuity in the IDW universe.
After this, the toy presentation started. They led off with a general explanation of what Titan Wars is about. They used the term "toy ecosystem" as they showed an example of the Titan Master heads being compatible across all the larger body figures, using a diagram of Fortress Maximus's head as the stand-in. There was also a mention of even larger figures being part of the system, going beyond Leader Class. The most obvious meaning being that the Fortress Maximus we pretty well know is coming will on some degree be able to use Titan Masters - probably as the head of Cerebros like the original toy. They then ran through the pricepoints, mostly showing the same things that were displayed at the media event Wednesday night. Nightbeat was first up and used to explain the $5 level with independent Titan Masters and dual-mode vehicles that could become weapons. As they moved through renamed characters like Loudmouth or Terri-Bull, Warden made some truly horrendous puns to try to make sure everybody knew who they really were. A quick overview of the Legends followed, with the sticker detailing being the main point of focus, plus that the Legends would have pegs for Titan Masters to stand on in their vehicle modes. At the Deluxes, silhouettes of head shots were shown on the slides, but not actually revealed. So far the shapes haven't given a distinct impression of who/what will be joining Hardhead and Skullsmasher as part of the first Deluxe wave.
In Voyagers, Galvatron's third mode reveal was a bit ruined as the image had gone out with the press kit the night before, but as it turns out, that was not the actual surprise they were holding back. Debuting at the panel was Voyager Sentinel Prime, the triplechanging shuttle in a glorious mix of orange, yellow and red. The third mode is described as a battle tank. And very long, narrow battle tank. Some elbow-nudge level comments followed to make sure again that everybody got that this would be Astrotrain at some later point in its life. As an extra bonus, the handpainted early testshot of Sentinel was put on the panel table and those in attendance were allowed to come and photograph it, though only the robot and shuttle modes were on hand. Finally was Leader Class, running through Blaster. Nothing new was related here, basically restating the same features for the audience as were explained at the media event, including how it's designed to connect to other Leader Class figure base modes. In the corner of Blaster's slide, a Powermaster Optimus-shaped headshot could be seen, though no attention was called to it.
With the toy presentation over, the panel wound down. Hasbro Pulse was plugged - probably necessary given the Titans Return silhouette teaser was there for a couple days before anyone noticed. And once again going over how everything will come together through the comics, Machinima, and the toys with the current concept of a unified approach. After this was a quick round of Q&A. Among the more informative questions posed was an inquiry about the anniversary of Beast Wars, which apparently is not something that they're planning to formally observe. Another question concerned the division of factions after the incredibly Autobot-heavy Combiner Wars, and the Hasbro team are wanting to go for a more level balance with Titans Return. Finally, a question was asked about the Masterpiece line. It was said that about two per year was "typical", and that while they do think about the line there's no changes in the works at this time.
What's probably significant too is what isn't said. As a toyline it seems probable that we've seen all of what Combiner Wars has to offer in the US, at least in terms of new molds. The idea seems to be that Titans Return will phase in around summer of 2016 - just enough time for the second Autobot Car Deluxe wave and Sky-Lynx and maybe Demolishor to get in the system before the newer product starts rolling in. Those holding out hopes for any sort of Technobots or other expansions to this series, sadly it seems to be over. Presumably special items like the G2 sets can continue in some capacity regardless of Titans Return, but it seems unlikely that any new characters, or more importantly new tooling would find their way to such an outlet.
Meanwhile the absences of shown Titan Return items that we otherwise have good indications of existing serve to illustrate things we should probably expect to be at Toy Fair. Fortress Maximus, who appears on a sample cover for a Titans Return comic issue, and going by the Botcon lineart will be a retool of Metroplex is the most prominent example. It's easily understood that it would be the large focal item for next year, as Devastator was this year. Leader Class Powermaster Optimus Prime is likely for Toy Fair debut as well, leaving mostly just the question of what it is; whether it will be some degree of retool of Ultra Magnus, or be something entirely new. Plus there's the two other Deluxes we weren't shown just for a start. NYCC this year has been an incredibly strong showing for Hasbro, both on the media event night and the actual panel. It's my hope that it's just a taste of what we can expect out of the Toy Fair presentation in February. It's going to be a tough few months to wait for that, but somehow I think it's going to be worth it.