One of the first panels of the day on Saturday of New York Comic Con was also one of the most explosive. Skybound hosted its Energon Universe panel. For those not in the know, the Energon Universe is the new home to Habro’s Transformers and G.I. Joe comics, as well as the new comic, Void Rivals, by Robert Kirkman and Lorenzo De Felici. Both men were at the Energon Universe panel. They were joined by Daniel Warren Johnson (Transformers)Joshua Williamson (Writer – Duke), Tom Reilly (Artist – Duke), and Sean Mackiewicz (Publisher – Skybound). The usually tight lipped Kirkman allowed his crew to open up about the new shared universe. And open up they did. Many spoilers were shared. Read on at your own risk. 

The Energon Universe panel NYCC 2023

Though if you’re looking for answers as to where is Megatron, Johnson only had this to say: “No comment.”

Daniel Warren Johnson did most of the talking at the panel. This makes sense. Johnson’s Transformers #1 is the hottest comic of the past month, and one of the hottest of 2023. He was quickly goaded by Kirkman to reveal why he killed Bumblebee. Johnson flat out said he didn’t want to draw him. He told the crowd, “He’s not coming back either. There’s no plans.” Robert Kirkman led the crowd in booing Johnson. To this, Johnson jokingly responded, “I love it. I feed on your tears.”

When asked what it was like pitching to Hasbro the death of one of their number one characters, Johnson replied, “He’s not the number one character, first off, let’s be real.” Kirkman cut him off there, saying, “He’s in the top five.” Johnson agreed with that. He then continued, “Why did I kill Bumblebee? I didn’t want to draw him.” The crowd laughed and applauded, but Johnson continued, “It’s the truth.”

Bumblebee dies in Transformers #1

Kirkman liked the decision, saying, “Right of the gate, this is not like any other Transformers comic you’ve ever read.” Kirkman said it evoked the feeling of the 1986 Transformers movie, “because Transformers were dying nonstop in very disrespectful ways. For the first 10 minutes, it’s just brutal. You would just see beloved Transformers that you just watched for two season on the ground in a heap. And you’re like, “I loved that guy.” They didn’t even say his name or give him a line of dialogue.” Daniel Warren Johnson piggybacked on this with “Whenever I see a car smoking by the side of the road, I think of Prowl.” The crowd, full of Transformers fans, all laughed. 

Daniel Warren Johnson also praised the 1986 Transformers movie, calling it his “favorite thing about the franchise,” and one of his “top ten favorite movies of all time.” He went on say “It’s been a really good guidepost for me.”

The moderator pointed out that killing off Bumblebee opens up a spot on the roster. Johnson agreed, saying “I really wanted to draw Cliffjumper. I also really liked his color scheme. Because it’s not easy to draw Transformers, let’s be honest. And you’ve got to find ways to make it fun.”

The connecting covers of Transformers 1-6

The moderator asked the panel if they were G.I. Joes, what would be their code name? Williamson went with “Because of the mood I’m in, Burn Out or Burnt Out.” Reilly answered, “Bargain Bin.” Daniel Warren Johnson was impressed, telling Tom Reilly, “You’re so good at this” as he laughed. Reilly then told the crowd his name the night before would have been “Smoke House, but Bargain Bin is funnier.” DWJ passed, and Mackiewicz gave himself the code name “Useless.”

Kirkman gave Hasbro “a ton of props.” He was really impressed in how much they care about their fan base. He also said that any guardrails the company put in place for them all made sense. If they ever had a note, it would have to do with a character acting out of character. 

What can diehard Transformers expect from the new status quo? Johnson responded that “I’m just trying to have fun with it, to make sure the story is fun, and make sure the Transformers transform.”

Readers may have noticed Optimus Prime performing some wrestling moves in the pages of Transformers #1. Johnson explained, “In the script…the page says “Optimus fights Starscream.” And on page 11, “Optimus fights Starscream some more. I had to figure this all out visually after the fact. I thought maybe I’d have Optimus do a wrestling move, a lariat would be really cool. What if I added another wrestling move after?” Mackiewicz asked, “Is there a wrestling move too far? Like an elbow drop?” Johnson quipped, “You mean like The People’s Elbow? That’s actually a great idea.” Williamson interjected that he and Reilly are going to try to find a way to one up Johnson and have Duke perform a Stone Cold Stunner. Johnson promised the crowd that they would see a Burning Hammer before issue 6 is over. This led Kirkman to joke, “That issue is not drawn yet, so I’m going to make it my mission to prevent that from happening.”

A second printing Transformers #1 features a close up shot of a very dead Bumblebee. Kirkman joked, “We were hoping Bumblebee fans would buy all of those to burn them.”

The death of Bumblebee will be immortalized on a second printing cover to Transformers #1

Duke, of G.I. Joe will make his first appearance in the Energon Universe in November’s Transformers #2. Describing Duke’s altercation with Starscream, Duke scribe Joshua Williamson said, “It goes very badly. It’s very bloody.” Williamson explained further, “It messes him up. It messes him up…Suddenly here’s this jet that transforms and it messes him up.” Duke’s skirmish with Starscream will lead Duke down the path to form G.I. Joe, who are not yet together at the time of Transformers #1 & 2. Don’t expect Duke to team up with the Autobots anytime soon. According to Williamson, after his encounter with Starscream, Duke will hate all Transformers. 

Transforms #2 features Starscream vs Duke of G.I. Joe

Williamson said he’s been a fan of G.I. Joe since he was a kid. He was very excited to be brought on as writer for the series. He’s going to show the formation of both G.I. Joe and Cobra. “That was one of the bigger motivators.” It was clear to him “that everyone hates Cobra Commander. They don’t like him and want to kill him, but he’s still their leader. I wanted to figure out how did that happen?” The Cobra Commander series will focus on that. 

Joe fans may be surprised about who is in the G.I. Joe team at launch. Hawk, Duke, Stalker, and…Baroness?? That’s right! How did Baroness come to be a Joe? Fans will have to read Duke to find out.

G.I. Joe will be Hawk, Duke, Baroness and Stalker

But what of Void Rivals, the book that launched the Energon Universe? Kirkman loves working on it, and is grateful to be reunited with his Oblivion Song collaborator Lorenzo De Felici. He was adamant is saying that Void Rivals is its own thing and not just the Transformers cameo book, though do expect cameos from more Transformers in the future. De Felici joked that he was said about Johnson’s plan to kill off Bumblebee in Transformers #1, because he was looking forward to drawing the diminutive Autobot in Void Rivals. Johnson jokingly responded that, okay, that made him feel bad about killing off Bumblebee. 

Transformers #2 comes out November 8. Duke #1 debuts 12/27/23, and Cobra Commander #1 debuts in January of 2024. Void Rivals takes a hiatus after issue #6, and returns with issue #7 in Spring of 2024

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