IDW Orders First Strike On The Hasbro Universe
Jun 08, 2017
by Vince Brusio
It was Steven Speilberg and George Lucas who warned Hollywood that super special effects spectaculars did not a movie make. The film had to have soul. It had to breathe. The same could be said for comics. Sure, you could get, like, these cool Hasbro toys you used to play with as a kid, and bash them together to say “Cool! Megatron just crushed Snake Eyes’ head!” But would it a comic make? The answer for making such an over-the-top Hasbro toy story — if you were writers Mairghread Scott and David Rodriguez — would be to make an epic tale that’s big on action, as well as big on pulling on the heart strings.
IDW's First Strike (JUN170430) is in comic shops August 9.
Vince Brusio: What core idea helped to first strike sparks for this story? How did the concept of this Hasbro crossover first begin, and then grow to the point where it took two writers to make it all fit?
Mairghread Scott: The core concept is two-fold: IDW and Hasbro very much wanted G.I. Joe on Cybertron – a fight so big it dragged all the other Hasbro brands into it, and that idea is super-fun! The two franchises have a long history together and it’s definitely something I was interested in exploring. But I wanted to bring a second, more personal, layer to the story and so we hit on our central theme. Scarlett, the head of G.I. Joe is now being pitted against her own mentor, Joe Colton, who seems to be hell-bent on dragging Earth into an interplanetary war!
So it’s not just a question of saving the Transformers, or saving all of Earth, it’s also a question of saving one man in the midst of this who means the world to you. Is it really Colton doing this? Could he be brainwashed or coerced? If not, can he be redeemed? That balance is one we’re really striving for in this book. Big action, but with a big heart behind it.
David Rodriguez: It gives the entire story a great, emotional core. We’re all for piles of ninjas (so many ninjas) and explosions, but having this conflict that the series pivots on grounds it in stakes that are relatable on a human level. And to make matters more interesting, Colton is not a supervillain with a grandiose or cartoonish plan. He is thoughtful, tactical and incredibly dangerous. He’s spent years planning and assembling the execution of this mission. And Scarlett knows that Colton would not have pulled the trigger unless he knew he had a reasonable shot at pulling this off. So even though the Transformers think the humans pose little to no threat to Cybertron, the reality is that the entire planet is in very real and immediate danger.
Mairghread Scott: In terms of our collaboration, David and I are on several projects and it was important to us that this book not get dragged out or delayed in any way. Two writers ensure the writing not only gets done faster, but has a second set of eyes to keep all our other moving parts moving properly. There’s an added bonus in that David is a bit more dialogue-focused and I’m a bit more action-driven. Together we keep up a good banter while still giving you great visuals on every page.
David Rodriguez: We were also able to combine our knowledges when passing scripts back and forth. Mairghread is a Transformer-Pedia of knowledge and has such a handle on all of those characters and I've spent a lot of time absorbing Joe and M.A.S.K lore (from sometime in the 80's if we want to get really specific) that it really streamlines our process. There have been several times already where I've counted on Mairghread to just know things... like what a Camien would use for an expletive, which is a very handy thing to know! Between us we are able to juggle and refine the great big pile of characters from the Hasbro Universe that all appear in First Strike.
Vince Brusio: What can you tell us about the characters in this story, both the A-List stars, and the supporting characters? Is there an ego war getting in the way of the real one?
Mairghread Scott: Well, fighting global genocide should never take away from petty squabbling. Naturally our primary heroes (Scarlett and her team from G.I. Joe, Matt and Gloria from MASK, Soundwave and Optimus from Transformers) get along fairly well, they’re not without conflict. Lady Jaye throws a lot of shade at people and Soundwave is not a fan of humans, but his character is weirdly adorable. (He’s really trying to be respectful of these vastly inferior, squishable things but…ugh.)
On the bad guys’ side, keeping competing minds like Storm Shadow from GI Joe and Shazraella from Micronauts (who gets a big upgrade in our story) together is a tall order. Miles Mayhem totally lives up to his name and it’s a joy to write whenever he gets cut down a peg. But they’re not the only people causing trouble. Elita One ends up throwing a wrench in everyone’s works when she steamrolls in with her own agenda. Let’s just say she makes Starscream seem like an upright citizen.
David Rodriguez: The twins (Skyburst and Stormclash) might be my new favorites. I wasn't really familiar with them before the series, but after researching them and seeing them in action in the story I am totally smitten. They have so much energy in their designs and personality that its hard not to enjoy every panel that they're on. But what is great about the human characters is that they hold their own in every scene. Any normal person would be dwarfed (in every sense) by the Transformers, but there really isn't anything “normal” about Scarlett and her team. They rise to the occasion and stand shoulder to shoulder with their robot allies. (Well, metaphorically. In the literal sense they sometimes stand on their shoulders. But that's purely tactical). The other duo that caught me by surprise are Stormshadow and Shaz. They need to have their own, buddy-villain, spin-off after this is said and done. Luckily vans and talking animals are easy to come by.
Vince Brusio: The scale of this story is huge, and the solicitation text tells us to expect a high Transformer body count. So what were some of the models reviewed in creating this level of destruction among the machines? Or was it more fun to discard the templates, and throw all the players together to see what rust bucket was most likely to be the last one standing? You know, Fantasy Football style.
David Rodriguez: I don't think we pre-planned out any deaths or destructions of any specific characters and there weren't any mandates for characters to be scrapped or anything. (Except for Wheelie. If he shows up, I don't know what's going to happen to him.) But in all seriousness, we knew which characters we got to play with when we started and we knew the end point. There was still plenty of room within those boundaries for exploration and surprise and anything that happens, including fatalities, are to serve the story and not meet a body count expectation.
Vince Brusio: How did you allow yourself to hear the voices of the characters in this story? How do you let them speak for themselves? How do you open that communication between your mind and the ethereal so that the dialogue you envision can come from both vocal chords and circuitry?
Mairghread Scott: Writing, for me at least, isn’t quite that mystical an experience. Characters tend to speak in fairly consistent speech patterns, so it’s more about reading what’s been written to pick out people’s mindsets rather than a spiritual communion. Roadblock is famous for his delightful asides and Aubrey clearly saw Lady Jaye as the kind of woman who always has a sly comment on the situation. On the other hand, Brandon wrote a really warm character in Matt Trakker whose central conflict is focused on not wanting to be manipulated. Soundwave is a very earnest character and has really come a long way now that he’s joined forces with Optimus, but he still spent years thinking humans weren’t even really worth calling alive; that doesn’t just go away.
I think there’s a dangerous myth in the comics industry that the writer is a channel for some kind of shamanistic zeitgeist, but that kind of mindset (in my view) leads to rather pedantic storytelling. Stories are about people and we’re trying to show that these brands aren’t just gimmicks to sell toys, they’re vibrant tales of people fighting for what they believe in. They just all believe in different things.
David Rodriguez: I agree with Mairghread. If you know the characters, if you understand the things they love, hate, fear and so forth, then you can write them from an informed place and understand how they'd react in most situations. You can make them relatable. The particular speech patterns and personalities of these characters have been pretty well established by a lot of great writers, so it helps to do your homework so that you can stay on voice. But if you guys DO locate any shamanistic zeitgeist out there that will help me hit deadlines, please hook me up.
Vince Brusio: What is it about this story that made you want to jump off a bridge? Or do you remember having the exact opposite experience? Was there a time during production that you were so proud of yourself that you were ready to renounce your citizenship and book a ticket to Cybertron?
David Rodriguez: The experience has been fantastic and the team is amazing. It's also been a little overwhelming working on a series of this scope with these icons. But you forget any and every stressful part of the process when one of Max's awesome pages shows up and brings one of our ideas to life. No matter what size a character is supposed to be gets the scale right. And then he puts so much detail and humor into the pages that seeing them appear in my mailbox is a high point of my day. It almost makes me forget how many plates we've got spinning with these multiple continuities and making sure we don't drop any in the process.
Mairghread Scott: Well, there is certainly a lot of moving parts and continuities to sort through, but David Hedgecock, Carlos Guzman and John Barber has kept us far enough away from the edge. I think what I’m most proud of is being able to write an event book that you’ll love even without any of the tie-ins. We wanted to be the story fans looked forward to, not the required reading they had to get through before they got back to their own lines and I think we nailed that. So if you’re reading every book IDW’s ever put out, or you’ve never jumped in our end of the pool before, First Strike is a great read that gives you the flavor of a lot of our lines while still delivering on a story all its own.
Vince Brusio writes about comics, and writes comics. He is the long-serving Editor of PREVIEWSworld.com, the creator of PUSSYCATS, and encourages everyone to keep the faith...and keep reading comics.