Transformers first arrived on planet Earth back in 1984. Yep, for twenty-five years the Autobots and the Decepticons have been battling it out on Terra on Saturday morning TV and in the pages of comic books. Throughout that time the universe of the Transformers, though staying loyal to the original premise, has been expanded and branched and has undergone a couple of reboots.
The most recent major comic reboot was in 2006 when IDW Publications picked up the bouncing Transformer ball. Throughout the recent years of Transformers comics the main storyteller was Simon Furman. But in the shadow of the quite independent Transformers movie and forthcoming sequel someone else is having a go.
Shane McCarthy first came to prominence with his work on Batman that included a reinvention of the Riddler. The positive response to this and other works meant Shane would naturally be given another universe to play in. So now Shane, with the help of artist Guido Guidi, is giving Transformers a fresh coat of paint.
All Hail Megatron is a 12 issue series that allows a comfortable entry by newcomers into the long running saga, but more than that, throws light on new angles allowing past readers to refresh their approach, which is always a good thing.
With Volume One of All Hail Megatron collection (first six issues) published in March and the second volume coming out round early October I asked Shane about writing in the Transformer universe and what he has envisioned for the dudes of Cybertron.
I'm guessing that getting a gig like writing Transformers wouldn't normally go to someone who isn't already a fan of the big metal guys. How was it to become a new voice for the Transformers universe and how much did you need to get up to speed with the ongoing sagas between Autobots and Deceptacons?
Well, having been a fan of the cartoon since I was a little kid it was a real pleasure to be able to work on the series and add some of my own ideas to the characters. There's a lot to work with and a real depth to the characters and the world if you want to look for it. I was eager to keep them true to the characters we knew but to also reach in and find a side to each of them that perhaps we hadn't seen yet.
As for getting up to speed. Well, my knowledge is pretty good to begin with (not as good as some of the guys out there though) so I set about reading everything IDW had published and familiarizing myself with their version of the Transformer universe. Not to shabby a job when you get to sit about doing that.
All Hail Megatron is meant to be a place where someone can get into the universe without requiring the complex background knowledge of past stories. Should this saga be considered a reboot of the universe? How much does the past play on the story you are telling?
The past plays a big part but the appeal of the series is that you don't need to have read it to understand what's going on. We billed this series as a 'soft reboot' in that we're turning our attention away from some aspects of what went before to give new readers a jumping on point without all the complex background. If you have read what went before then you receive a bigger reward for your effort.
What I wanted to do was to show the real effects of war on these characters and show some of the ramifications of the choices they've made along the way. You can't fight for as long as they have and still have the lines between good and evil being so clearly drawn. I wanted to put each side, Autobot and Decepticon, in the worst situation they could be in and see what happened.
I've heard that your fresh take was received with positive response by critics and by the buying public. You must be happy with that.
Oh very happy. The bulk of the response has been overwhelmingly positive. I mean, not everyone's going to love it when you play around with things like I have but most of the fans have been extremely positive. I've received some of the best reviews of my career on this book.
I really liked the Transformers animated movie from '86, but I didn't care for the Michael Bay movie. Several of my friends don't argue with me over the flaws in story and character, but they still love the movie (and are excited about the next one) cause they all just flipped out on CGI Transformers doing their thing. As one respected friend said to me, "It has big robots beating the shit out of each other, what else do you need?" But you do need something else. What do you think that "else" is?
Story and character.
Not to put down the chaps that made Transformers too much but special effects don't make a good movie. What they can do with CGI these days is impressive but if you want me give a damn about it when it's on the big screen then give me something to care about. An explosion is pointless with nothing to back it up, it might as well be a mobile phone ad.
If you're going to make a film then subject matter is irrelevant, regardless of what it's about you need to tell a convincing story and show me interesting characters I can care about. Whether it's about the war, a couple in love, a time traveling teenager in a Delorean, a whip cracking archeologist, the mob or giant transforming robots you still need to tell a good story. And preferably one that makes sense.
It's hard to create a story and script that wins oscars, it's not hard to create a story and script that doesn't insult the audience. I think most of these big budget movies should be trying harder and showing more respect to the people that pay for the tickets.
I'm assuming you would be happy doing Transformers for some time to come, but even if you did the adventures of Optimus Prime and Co. forever, do you have other things you want to do and what else is on the cards for Shane McCarthy?
I'm starting work on my next Transformer series which is going to be a hell of a lot of fun to write. I'm in the research stage at the moment but it's seriously going to be a fun ride once I sit down to work. Down the track I'll be working on a creator owned book with one of my best friends in the world who also happens to be one of the most talented artists in the industry. I'm seriously a lucky guy.