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Robert Kirkman Created A Robust Pitch To Become A Part Of GI Joe & Transformers History - Exclusive Interview

Contains spoilers for "Void Rivals" #1

Big things are coming to Skybound/Image Comics with the newest Robert Kirkman and Lorenzo De Felici project, "Void Rivals," actually being a secret launch of the "Transformers" and "G.I. Joe" universe for the publisher.

In the final page of "Void Rivals," the comic features the surprise appearance of the Transformer Jetfire. The moment serves as the official introduction to the Energon Universe and the publisher's new partnership with Hasbro. The Energon Universe is starting in a big way with "Void Rivals," leading to a new "Transformers" title from Daniel Warren Johnson and four new "G.I. Joe" comics, including "Duke" by Joshua Williamson and Tom Reilly and "Cobra Commander" from Williamson and Andrea Milana. We spoke to Kirkman about acquiring the licenses to the iconic Hasbro characters, keeping the secret for so long, and what readers can expect from "Void Rivals" and the other upcoming comic series set in the "Transformers" and "G.I. Joe" Universes.

How did Skybound land Transformers and G.I. Joe?

When did Skybound first consider landing the "Transformers" and "G.I. Joe" license? What was the process like, and how has the collaboration with Hasbro been thus far?

The collaboration with Hasbro's been excellent. They've been game to do all the crazy stuff that we have planned, and it's been a lot of fun working with them and pushing boundaries and doing crazy stuff, like introducing a completely new concept to build into the Energon Universe.

They reached out to us about two years ago with the possibility of pitching to get the license for "Transformers" and "G.I. Joe." I rolled my sleeves up and worked with the team at Skybound, with Sean Mackiewicz, to come up with a pretty robust pitch that included the Energon Universe and "Real American Hero" and a lot of other things that we'll be announcing soon. It was something that was exciting for me — I've loved "Transformers" and "G.I. Joe" for as long as I can remember. I've had those characters kicking around my house in some form of plastic or comic book for as long as I've been alive. Being able to be a small part of their history is exciting and a tremendous honor.

What's your personal history with the "Transformers" and "G.I. Joe" franchises?

I was 8 years old in 1986 when I saw "[The] Transformers: The Movie" in theaters and got to watch Optimus Prime die before my very eyes.

I had seen every episode of that show. I had a bunch of the toys. I asked for Optimus Prime for Christmas one year and got Optimus Prime slippers because my parents couldn't afford Optimus Prime, and I was told that maybe Santa just misunderstood. That was a very seminal moment in my life. ["Transformers"] is a huge part of my life, and "G.I. Joe" as well. Every day, I would race home to watch "G.I. Joe" and "Transformers" after school, and I love these characters. The opening sequence to "G.I. Joe: The Movie" is one of the greatest pieces of animation ever made. I love these concepts.

How hard was it to keep this secret for so long?

I love keeping secrets — it's a lot of fun. "Transformers" and "G.I. Joe" would come up in conversation, and I'd be like, "Oh, that's fun." That's exciting. People don't know, so that's cool. I also have a very tight circle of people at Skybound and very close friends and collaborators and people in the industry that I trust who are aware of it. In my immediate circle, Eric Stevenson has known [for] forever; Sean Mackiewicz has known since day one. Working with Daniel Warren Johnson and Josh Williamson, they're brought into the circle, so it's not that maddening to try and keep a secret because you're able to talk amongst yourselves about it.

Void Rivals is the launch of a new Energon Universe

What made "Void Rivals" the perfect soft launch for this? I think people will be pretty excited by the ending and seeing Jetfire. Not going into it knowing what was coming was super fun as a reader.

I come at everything as a fan, so trying to think about the best way to launch the Energon Universe, it made me think: As a fan, if I was reading a comic and all of a sudden the Predator showed up — or the Terminator showed up or something — on page 10, that would be absolutely startling and shocking and would be one of the coolest things ever. So it seemed exciting to have "Void Rivals," which on the surface is exactly the same as "Fire Power," "Oblivion Song," or "Die!Die!Die!" It's a brand-new concept from Robert Kirkman. He's doing another comic; he's bringing a new concept into the industry. My fan base hopefully gets excited about that. Then you sit down and it's like, "Oh, bam, secret Transformer."

As a fan, that would be so exciting for me, so I'm hoping that there's a ton of people out there that would share that similar level of excitement. Hopefully, that leads to some people that wouldn't necessarily try a "Transformers" [or] a "G.I. Joe" comic giving them a shot for the first time. I'm sure that everyone's experienced these characters in plastic form or TV form or movie form, but to get them excited about the comics is really cool.

What will the Transformers-G.I. Joe shared universe look like, and what is your role as showrunner in it?

I plotted out all the starting points and basically set up the angles and a way into these characters. We're doing the Energon Universe as essentially an Ultimate Universe for these characters. We're doing basically a reboot, a refresh. We're going to be retelling a lot of familiar stories in new and exciting ways, and we're going to be adapting some familiar stories in a way that dovetails into something that is new to the universe.

You can see how Jetfire's presence on this planetoid in "Void Rivals" is an adaptation of the episode of "Transformers" that introduces him, where he's lost in the ice and is discovered. Much like that episode, if you're paying attention, he does not have an Autobot icon on his chest. He's from that era of Cybertron before the Autobots and the Decepticons formed. He's from pre-war Cybertron, so that's a way of adapting that episode's story into this universe in a new way. You'll see a lot of that in "Transformers" and "G.I. Joe" as we go.

What can readers expect from the Energon line?

What can you say about Daniel Warren Johnson's "Transformers"? I feel like that's a perfect match between voice and creator. His stuff is sublime.

It's the most action-packed "Transformers" comic I've ever seen. The things he's doing with these characters is really new and unique. Daniel has an amazing voice. It's very unique. You don't get things from other comics that you get from Daniel Warren Johnson comics. There's a tremendous ... He does such fluid action and such brilliant, thought-provoking action sequences, but he's great at emotional storytelling. That's an excellent mix for a "Transformers" story, and you're going to see a lot of emotion and a lot of action.

Hasbro's very keen on making sure that these characters are individual characters and that they have personalities. We tell stories where you feel for them, and that's something that's really important to me. You can see it in all of my work. These aren't cold emotionless robots that are doing exciting action things; these have emotions and hopes and dreams and desires, and we're going to be exploring all of that. Daniel's doing a great job with it.

Flipping over to the "G.I. Joe" side ... What about Joshua Williamson and Tom Reilly on "Duke"?

Josh and Tom are brilliant. Josh is as huge a "G.I. Joe" fan as you can find, and you can see how great he is at world-building with "Nailbiter" and "Birthright" and a lot of the original concepts done. He's great at getting to the core of an established character — as he did with "The Flash" — and finding what's exciting about them again and putting a fresh coat of paint on them. He's going to be able to do something great with "G.I. Joe" and its characters.

People argue about who has the best rogues gallery — Is it Batman? Is it Spider-Man? It's G.I. Joe. The visuals of their villains, the stories behind the villains ... They're the coolest-looking characters. It's great. When you have a story where there's 400 G.I. Joe versus 400 Cobra, that can be a little unwieldy, so what Josh is going to be doing is stripping things back down to their core. That's why we're launching with "Duke" and "Cobra Commander."

We're going to get to the heart of who Duke is as a character. This is the person that ends up leading the G.I. Joe team — what is it about him that makes him capable of being that leader? Cobra Commander — we're going to be watching him form Cobra from the very beginning. It's how that organization gets established and how he gets a foothold in the world.

By going back to square one and getting to know these characters, by the time it evolves into the formation of G.I. Joe and you see all of these characters interacting, you'll have a better understanding of each of them individually. They'll have value on their own so that when they interact as a team, there'll be a lot more richness to it, and there'll be a lot of depth to the pathos that goes into each one of these characters.

Can Void Rivals cross over with other Skybound projects?

Is there crossover possibility with these "Energon" titles with already established Skybound titles? Is that something that's like so far in the future, it's not even being considered?

It's not even being considered because the Energon Universe isn't our only focus. You can see that there's going to be the Energon Universe, but there are also a lot of different things that will be happening with "Transformers" and "G.I. Joe" outside of the Energon Universe. We have so many things planned that we're not really considering larger crossovers with extra things. We've got our work cut out for us. We've got plenty on our plate right now.

What is it like to work with Lorenzo De Felici on this project?

It's been great. I love working with Lorenzo. We did "Oblivion Song." He briefly wrote for himself and worked on "Kroma," which is an absolutely brilliant series. I don't know why he would ever work with me again — he clearly does not need me, but I love his concepting. I love everything he brings to an idea.

He has a unique angle into every visual that you could think of, and it's something that as we get deeper into the issues of "Void Rivals," you'll see as we're doing different spaceships and building designs and uniforms and armor and different things. He's got a billion great ideas, and it's awesome to be working with him again.

Can you say anything about the unannounced "G.I. Joe" comics? Any hints of what might be coming?

No ... Inside the Energon Universe, we'll be dealing with individual characters, and you'll see how "Void Rivals" leads to "Transformers," leads to "Duke," leads to "Cobra Commander" in an organic way. It'll make sense. There's a "G.I. Joe" title on the horizon, but when it happens is going to have to remain a mystery that will unfold as these stories progress.

Kirkman is excited to see Void Rivals finally release

With the book coming out sooner rather than later, what is the most exciting thing about getting it into the reader's hands? I imagine this has been a ... You mentioned this started about two years ago, this whole concept.

Yes. It's great to finally have the secret out there so that people know what's going on behind the scenes with "Void Rivals." I love that people are finally getting to meet these characters that Lorenzo and I have been working on that have been our secret pals, and now everybody gets to experience this. I love that now this first issue's out, people are going to be getting the second issue and the third issue, and they're going to see this new world unfold and see how it dovetails into "Transformers" and how that will lead to "G.I. Joe."

Not having to keep the secret, being able to apologize to friends of mine that I didn't tell — that are probably going to be mad at me when this comes out; it's nothing personal ... It's great to finally have this out in the world and to be able to share something that I've been so excited about with the fans.

Here's the accompanying text information about "Void Rivals" #1, which arrives in comic book stores and online retailers on Wednesday, June 14:

"SERIES PREMIERE: The blockbuster OBLIVION SONG team of ROBERT KIRKMAN & LORENZO DE FELICI debut the biggest new comic book series of 2023 with the launch of AN ALL-NEW SHARED UNIVERSE and a SURPRISE you won't see coming! War rages around the Sacred Ring, where the last remnants of two worlds have collapsed around a black hole in a never-ending war. However, when pilot Darak and his rival Solila both crash on a desolate planet, these two enemies must find a way to escape together. But are they alone on this strange planet? And what dark forces await that threaten the entire universe?"

This interview has been edited for clarity.