With the formal announcement that IDW’s collective Transformers Universe is ending at WonderCon, the creators at the publisher are gearing up for the end of the series, including creator James Roberts. Roberts has a big responsibility in putting an end to his 100-issue magnum opus, Transformers: Lost Light story.
Now that the finale is in sight, what does it feel like to be so close to the finish line of Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye and Transformers: Lost Light?
If I’m honest, it’s all moving too fast to process — especially with some of the final issues double-shipping. I’ve just finished writing the solicit for the final issue, and that did give me pause; the first real proof that this is it, that there’s no turning back.
If you count the tie-in spotlights, crossovers, specials, and annuals, our story — the Autobots’ quest for Cyberutopia and the Knights of Cybertron — has taken pretty much 100 issues to tell, and I’m amazed (and relieved, and surprised) that we’ve been able to tell it. I mean, so few books last the distance these days, and so few stories are given the space to unfold. To have been given (by the readers, through their continued support) seven years to tell a single epic tale is a privilege. My biggest fear, of course, has been that — for whatever reason — the plug would be pulled ahead of time, and we’d have a rushed finale… or worse, no finale at all. It would just… stop. To have been given a definite and relatively distant end point (I think the decision to end both Lost Light and Optimus Prime was taken when I was writing Lost Light #12) was ideal.
With you planning so far ahead, did any of your long-term planning change along the way?
You know, I was all ready to say that the basic mytharc — that is, the overall shape of the story I set out to tell back in 2011 — has remained broadly the same, but now that I’m an issue away from the end, I don’t think that’s true. Megatron’s defection to the Autobots, which was something no one predicted back in the beginning, did change the course of the story in more ways than I imagined at the time. And I think he changed it for the better; it made for a richer, deeper story, and one that better explores the key themes of More Than Meets the Eye and Lost Light: guilt, family, and forgiveness.
With the current arc revolving around death, do you identify this as a time of reflection for the Lost Light crew?
They don’t really have time to sit back and reflect. Well, they kind of do within the “Everlasting Voices” arc, which is pretty ruminative by Lost Light standards, but – as you’ll see – events kind of take over after #18 and there’s really no time at all to stop and breathe as we barrel towards our conclusion. I do try to mark characters’ deaths by exploring their friends’ reaction to them, so this is new for me. There’s no time to take stock, no time to mourn – you just have to work out how to survive the next threat.
Is there a character fans aren’t paying attention to that they should watch out for in the next couple issues?
Trick question – fans pay attention to every character!
How do you manage the sprawling Lost Light cast with a finite space?
My approach across the whole of the run, including More Than Meets the Eye, has been to tell one- and two-part stories that focus on a handful of the cast, rather than have everyone in every story – because you’re right, it’s a huge cast, and in fact, it’s just grown with the end of #17. I tend to save the “all in this together” stories for season finales, or, in the case of Lost Light (because it was a relaunch), the season opener.
If you look at Lost Light, once we moved beyond the “Dissolution” arc (and the only way I was meaningfully able to give most of the main cast some time in the spotlight was to split the cast up and pursue several subplots), we had a two-parter focusing on Nautica, Anode, Lug, and Velocity, and then “The Mutineers Trilogy” that told the story of Getaway, First Aid, and Co. That meant there was five months before we checked in on the core cast again, and maybe that was too long. In fact, I moved the Scavengers story around so that “Sardines” (in LL #13) came first; otherwise, it would have been seven months between Rod & Co. leaving Necroworld and us catching up with them.
The moral of the story: don’t have too many characters.
Are there any teases you can draw towards mysteries fans may not be keeping their eye on?
Well, I kind of refer you to my previous answer. The readers are so attentive, and they’re so used by now to my style of storytelling, that very few clues go unnoticed. In fact, what tends to happen is that non-clues get seized upon as evidence of an imaginary plot line that’s always, frustratingly, better than the one I’ve got planned.
I will say, however, that the finale is designed to answer all the questions that have been building up over the last seven years, including some that may have been forgotten about, or to which it appeared that the answers had already been given.
What is like to be able to have the freedom to start coupling off certain characters?
I dunno, that makes it seem that it’s either random or arbitrary. The Chromedome/Rewind relationship was there from the start, the Cyclonus/Tailgate relationship developed over time – and at various points along the way (notwithstanding my earlier comment about long-term plotting), I wasn’t sure which way I wanted it to go. I think with Anode and Lug, that’s the first time since the very beginning that I consciously thought “These two are a couple” – and the ability to do that without any fear of pushback, is because conjunx endura and Cybertronians being “married” are things that we now, thankfully, accept as commonplace.
Can you tease what kind of elements the Scavengers will bring to the story?
It’s a bit like the Guardians of the Galaxy in Infinity War – they’re such a complete package, with such a strong collective personality, that they just need to be there, in the thick of it, and act the way they act, and – in my opinion – you get that sweet crossover hit. I mean, it was fun writing Swerve and Misfire together – they always seemed destined to be a double act, like Blue Beetle and Booster Gold back in JLI. Sensible Krok gravitates towards Magnus, Fulcrum shares an aversion to danger with Brainstorm, and Spinister’s skills commend him to the other doctors. But I say that, and it suggests that they integrate seamlessly… but the fact is, they’re a bunch of very odd Decepticons, and even when they’re consciously trying to be on their best behaviour and react appropriately to the universe-threatening events unfolding around them, they’re still – and always will be – beautifully rubbish.
With the war between Autobots and Decepticons being over for an extended period of time now, do you think some of the stress and anxiety leading to Getaway seizing the Lost Light would be possible now?
I think in the eyes of the Autobots and Decepticons, whose lifespans are measured in millions of years, post-war life is still very new. And with someone so monumentally divisive as Megatron – the grand architect of a war that nearly annihilated them as a race – that’s never going to be assimilated, rationalized, and put to one side quickly. The pain, recriminations, and bitterness will take centuries to take effect, even with Megatron trapped in another universe. So yeah, I think that while the atmosphere is very slightly less febrile than in the months immediately after Megatron defected, it would still be relatively easy for a charismatic or manipulative ideologue to exploit simmering tensions.
What is it like to write a villain as memorable and ruthless as Getaway or Tarn?
Writing villains is best when readers elevate them to that “love to hate” status, where they’re fan-favorites but people really want to see them get their comeuppance. I knew when I saw Alex Milne’s designs for Tarn that he’d be an iconic baddie, regardless of his personality or motivations, and I knew that he’d be loathed because of the horrific way in which he murders, or oversees the murders of, his enemies. It was rewarding to give him a few more layers as time went on – to explore his protectiveness towards the rest of the D.J.D., his breakdown upon learning of Megatron’s betrayal, and the fate of his beliefs when they were properly tested.
I never, ever expected Getaway to be hated as much as he is right now. Okay, so that’s maybe not quite true. What he did to Tailgate was abhorrent and when people picked up on his motives I knew that would generate a visceral response. But it was the mutiny – even more so than emotionally manipulating Tailgate and being prepared to get him killed – that made readers absolutely loathe him. And yet, there was still a vocal cohort of readers who maintained that “Getaway did nothing wrong”. I know for some it was a tongue-in-cheek statement, and it became harder to maintain as a position as “The Mutineers Trilogy” unfolded, but it was very gratifying to see the sympathies shift. And you know what? It’s nice for More Than Meets the Eye and Lost Light’s most-hated bad guy to be an Autobot.
Is there anything you would like to add about the book?
Oh god, where to start? With regards to the last few issues specifically, I’ve really tried to deliver the finale that long-time readers deserve. It’s like our earlier season finales rolled into one and amplified. It’s huge, and it needs to be because this is where all those years of readers’ investment pay off. Characters get their moment to shine, or meet their end, and mysteries are finally, properly solved. The cast is absolutely huge, as is the scale – it really is like our version of Infinity War. And I’ll make no apologies – there’s a lot going on.
More generally, I’d like to say that for me, there will never be another book – or another creative journey – quite like More Than Meets the Eye and Lost Light. As a Transformers fan back in the 80s/90s, this is the One Big Story that I always wanted to tell, and everything just fell into place at the right time. Best of all, it turns out there was a market for whatever it was MTMTE turned out to be: a silly, serious, funny-sad space opera sitcom about very ordinary, very extraordinary people.
Transformers: Lost Light #18 is on-sale now at your local comic book shop and digitally through Comixology!