First Strike's creative team takes us inside IDW's Hasbro comic book universe

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Jun 21, 2017

If your childhood was squarely planted in the '80s or '90s, then there’s a good chance your bedroom was littered with a number of Hasbro toys like Transformers, G.I. Joe, M.A.S.K., ROM, or Micronauts. I don’t know about you, but Hasbro ruled everything around me -- get the money, dollar-dollar bill ya'll, right? Everyone I knew was having Toy Story-like adventures with their Hasbro toys (including me) and had a fleet of 3.75-inch G.I. Joes taking on ROM or a few choice Transformers. It didn't matter that it was a hodgepodge of universes, because in my mind, all of these creations existed in the same plane of made-up reality.

So when IDW decided to launch the Revolution crossover in 2016, that created a scenario where these Hasbro worlds collided, it was like they mined my childhood. They found a way to have all of these properties co-exist, and it helps to have all the licenses available. Now Transformers and G.I. Joe have a long history of crossovers, but IDW went further by getting M.A.S.K., ROM, and Micronauts involved too. This massive, shared universe would have a three-year plan to start with, and after a successful first year, the second event, First Strike infiltrates comic shops this summer.

I spoke with the co-writers of First Strike, Mairghread Scott and David Rodriguez, the artist Max Dunbar, and even IDW editor-in-chief, David Hedgecock about the big team-ups, conflicts, and what to expect from this blockbuster event. And below the interview, check out our gallery that includes exclusive sneak peeks of the first two pages of First Strike #1 (unlettered), retailer incentive covers for First Strike #2 by Jay Fosgitt and Leonardo Manco, and covers for the First Strike one-shots.

First Strike is not only an intriguing series for those already vested in the Hasbro shared universe since Revolution, but it feels as if those who have been reading the separate IDW Hasbro Comics -- whether they be G.I. Joe, ROM, M.A.S.K., Micronauts, or Transformers: Till All Are One -- may want to tune in too, since those titles are coming to a close just as First Strike is ramping up. Talk about how all of these paths are funneling into First Strike and coming out the other end with one shots and tie-ins.

Mairghread Scott: Well, for my series, Till All Are One, we’ve been following Starscream and Windblade as they try to maintain peace between all the various factions of Transformers. Recently, they’ve been recovering from an attack on Cybertron during Titan Wars and Elita One has become a major challenger to Starscream for control of the planet. Starscream has a tenuous hold on power and another attack on Cybertron could mean losing it all together. My Till All Are One series wraps up just before First Strike, and then the annual will come out after First Strike and deal with the political fallout of the last few years of events in all these books.

David Rodriguez: Mairghread and I have worked very closely with the editors and creative teams of the other books to make sure that the events from the individual titles and First Strike tie-ins dovetailed into the events of the First Strike series itself. Both the G.I. Joe and M.A.S.K.: Mobile Armored Strike Kommand teams will be working through their own existential crisis (from internal and external forces) that will affect how they come out of this event. The Transformers must deal with the ramifications of an insurgency that changes their world in a real and permanent way. Each of the one-shots and tie-ins serve to buttress the details of those characters and teams and give them time to shine outside of the Cybertron-centric war being waged.

Since First Strike is the second story in a trilogy with the Hasbro universe, is it packaged in a way that will allow newcomers to come in fresh, not having read Revolution? Folks still have time to catch up, but what’s the important stuff to know going in?

DR: I think the series works as a jumping on point without needing much catch up. The events that the reader really needs to know is that at some point in the past, Optimus Prime annexed Earth and begged forgiveness (not really) rather than asked permission. This rubbed a lot of folks the wrong way. But now Earth is getting a seat at the big kids' table on Cybertron and joining the council of worlds. But Colton, and some other upstanding citizens of the planet, decide that the risk is too great. The Cybertronians are an immediate threat and need to be dealt with. And even if you don’t know that, we set this up in the early pages of the series.

MS: The Davids and I have done everything possible to make this event very new-reader friendly. We add little things like captions to introduce a character the first time they show up and David Rodriguez and I have made sure the dialogue gives you a great sense of who these people are and what they want right off the bat. That said, if you like earning extra credit, you should check out Revolution from last year, the current G.I. Joe comics, Revolutionaries, Optimus Prime, and Till All Are One. I am 100% biased, but definitely read all of Till All Are One just because we’ve had a grand old time doing robot politics.

Art for First Strike #1 Page 2 Unlettered

First Strike has a fairly robust roster, and as in any crossover event, fans are going to wonder how you came to the decisions of your principal cast from each Hasbro property. Were they characters that artist Max Dunbar liked to draw? I particularly like how much we’re seeing Scarlett, Arcee, and Lady Jaye on the covers.

Max Dunbar: It would be pretty hard for them to pick a character I wouldn’t enjoy drawing from these franchises. I feel really lucky to be able to draw all these iconic characters that I’ve been a fan of since I was a kid. In particular, Scarlett is a huge favorite of mine, and I love drawing her new design that Giannis Milonogiannis came up with.

DR: We have yet to find the thing that Max can’t draw, so that made our lives pretty easy when selecting characters. A lot of the cast came directly from the events of their own books. That gave us a pretty clear pool of characters to choose from. And then each of us had some personal favorites that we thought would fit and checked to see who was available to play a major role or just a super cool cameo. (Like Hashtag!) And the villains just sort of fell into place. We needed a group that made tactical sense and who also had something to gain from this mission. There’s no way Miles Mayhem is going to war with Transformers to save mankind. The female representation in the series happened organically (which is always nice) and I agree that it’s great to see them not just participating in the series, but driving most of the event.

MS: I have been telling John Barber, Carlos Guzman, and David Hedgecock that I want to write Scarlett and the G.I. Joes for years, but it’d be unfair to steal it from Aubrey Sitterson since he does such a great job. So when they floated the idea of Cobra and G.I. Joe coming to Cybertron, I jumped on the idea and really wanted to write it. Outside of Starscream and Windblade, Scarlett is probably my favorite character in all the Hasbro properties, ever since my days working on the G.I. Joe Renegades cartoon. So my dream cast was just mixing the G.I. Joes and the Transformers, especially since I also get to use some of John’s characters like Optimus Prime and Arcee, too. Of course, we didn’t want to leave our other great properties out, so we tried to pull in the characters we thought would work best for the plot and... well, the ones we really liked writing: Matt Trakker of M.A.S.K. and Shazraella of Micronauts are definitely the two stand-outs, though not the only additions to our list.

Fico Ossio had a monstrous task in Revolution to tell this massive story visually and also drawing so many characters. It makes a crossover like this seem so daunting from the sidelines. When we read this series, will we get a sense that no one is sitting it out?

MS: I want you to imagine David Hedgecock, IDW, and Hasbro tipping over the whole Hasbro toy box and telling you to have fun. Would you just pick up one or two toys? Or have a massive battle that used as many toys as possible? The harder question hasn’t been who to use, but who might need to sit it out just for page space. That said, I think we tried to pick our teams wisely and get the coolest characters from each franchise and use them in unique ways. I’ve loved finding cool ways to use the M.A.S.K. characters and the Torchbearers and the Space Knights that feel like they can live in the same world, and it’s been surprisingly organic so far.

DR: Even though the event and ramifications are huge, I think we went with a more targeted approach and keep our focus on the three main factions in the war. On one side are the Joe’s and their allies, and then a very clear “bad guy” group with Colton and his team. But there is also Starscream and the Cybertronians who have been attacked at home and may not see eye-to-eye with anyone involved. And that friction drives much of the conflict of our story.

Is setting the bulk of the story on Cybertron going to be an easier, or even greater task for Max?

MD: I’m not sure if I would lean either way on that. There are definite challenges to the story being set on Cybertron, a crowd shot of Transformers is really tricky and time-consuming... but I think just the nature of the story, and huge scale that the action plays out on would be a challenge no matter where it was set.

DR: I am going to guess that it makes it harder because there isn’t a lot of real world reference for some of the places we need to go. And I don’t know if writing down “you know, like that Sharkticon pit from the original animated movie” helps him at all. But I have full faith that he will deliver something awesome.

MS: My goal every issue is how far can I push Max before he breaks. Have we gotten there yet, Max?

MD: Not quite broken yet! Almost... But not quite.

Will Cybertron give the Transformer characters an upper hand going in? Quoting a line in your zero issue, are the characters from G.I. Joe and M.A.S.K. for example, going to be out of their weight class?

MS: I think the Transformers are at a huge disadvantage. Joe Colton has been studying how to defeat them for years; he is a master strategist and has planned a decisive first strike (Get it?) to knock them completely off balance. They also have to try to fight off the villains while protecting their home and civilians. Transformers may be in a whole other weight class, but they have never dealt with a foe quite like Joe Colton, which is why Scarlett becomes so important, because no one knows Joe quite like her.

DR: I think it hinders the Cybertronians at first because it is SO outside of their personal reality. A human invasion of Cybertron isn’t really something they’ve ever considered, and even while it’s happening, they are still sort of like “well damn, we’ve got termites, we ought to do something about that.” And that’s the teeny tiny advantage Colton exploits to get the jump on them. But that only lasts so long before the Transformers remind everyone just how deadly 30-foot war machines can be.

Crossovers give us these dream confrontations that are born out of comic shops, campfires, and gaming tables, but I think what is more interesting is who works together. There are some interesting alliances going on in First Strike, like Shazraella from Micronauts teaming up with G.I. Joe’s Lady Storm Shadow. Share with us the thinking and logistics behind some of these partners in crime or justice.

DR: It might sound weird, but just like in real life, a lot of the relationships happen naturally. We put the characters in situations by design and then some of them just click right away. Your example of Shaz and Storm Shadow is one of those. We knew they would be assisting each other, but there was one line that Mairghread wrote for Shaz that cemented their relationship forever. Scarlett becoming a sort of mentor to Matt Trakker is another that I enjoy, the twins and Soundwave and Miles Mayhem and pretty much everyone. Other times they are fun to draw together visually or their personalities play off each other in such a way that you just want to see them playing together more and more.

MS: My favorite part is writing how these characters interact with each other, especially when they are one the same side. In this series fans will finally get to see Elita One and Optimus butt heads, and possibly come to blows. Shazraella is a joy to write and packs a lot of attitude for someone so small. Teaming her with the world’s deadliest assassin created a lot of interesting dynamics. My favorite interaction though is probably a scene I just wrote for Optimus and Scarlett. Scarlett needs to convince Optimus to trust this entire mission in her hands when none of the other Transformers want to trust the humans very much, and I just loved having these two leaders really have a heart-to-spark conversation.

Because of the long-running cartoons, and past comic crossovers, G.I. Joe and Transformers are a natural fit, since who else on Earth could deal with Cybertronians but G.I. Joe, right? But I think what made Revolution, and now First Strike, kind of mind-blowing is folding in all of these other space series like Micronauts and ROM and M.A.S.K. who naturally fit with the Joe crowd. It really lends more to these pairings we’re talking about, almost gives them a boost or power-up. Talk about how those other three properties gave you more possibilities and enhanced this Hasbro universe that you wouldn’t have had otherwise.

DR: It helped me to see the scope of the event when you have these groups to play with and consider how they are affected by what is happening when we’re building the narrative. For better or worse, the Transformers are an immense part of the universe and have been around the longest. So, anything that affects them will have a powerful effect on everything, including the Microverse. Now that doesn’t mean they all have equal screen time or stake in this. But before we figured out which part everyone played, we had to consider ROM and the Solstar Order, we had to consider the entire M.A.S.K team and their emotional state when First Strike ramps up, and their contribution had to make sense. That made the entire experience richer. And again, WE HAD ALL THE TOYS!

MS: For those of you Micronaut readers, Enerchange tech comes in real handy for us in this series and the various M.A.S.K. illusions and hard light abilities are a boost going up against anyone. But more than the tech vs. tech battles, the different Hasbro properties give us a chance to show different viewpoints and desires in the script. Matt Trakker’s had run-ins with Transformers, but he didn’t expect to become an interstellar solider like he’ll have to be in this book. Transformers are the best and worst thing that’s ever happened to the Microverse and ROM’s people... still don’t care about anyone but the Dire Wraiths. But that makes problems all its own.

Talk about the evil forces that step it up in First Strike, like Starscream or Elita One, oh and Baron Ironblood in particular, as he’s been slowly assembling and retooling Cobra. Is he playing the long game in all of this?

MS: Well, Starscream and Elita aren’t bad guys in our book, they’re just politicians. They may have different viewpoints but ultimately want what’s best for Cybertron, even if they have very different ideas of how to accomplish it. The main villain in this piece is Baron Ironblood who is actually Joe Colton, the founder of G.I. Joe. He has decided the Transformers are too big a threat and eventually their war will destroy Earth. To stop them, he assembles a team including Destro, Storm Shadow, Shazraella, Miles Mayhem, Garrison Krieger, a metric ton of Red Shadow ninjas, and more.

DR: What I like about most of our “evil” characters is that they really aren’t that bad. I mean, I love the Transformers as much as anyone, but they do kind of invite mayhem and destruction over to hang out on a regular basis. It isn’t hard to make a leap that someone who has spent their life defending Earth might consider them a threat. A well-intentioned threat, perhaps, but if you’re squished under a two-ton boot, you’re not too worried about the boot’s emotional state. Every character is doing what they think is best for themselves or their people and sometimes it is selfish and short-sighted, but very rarely (I’m looking at you Mayhem) is it purely cruelty or amassing of power.

Do any of you wish you had Cobra Commander or Megatron you grew up with in the mix of evil guys to write (or draw) or has this pool of bad guys given you a different yet satisfying kind of gravitas?

MS: Well, the Megatron I grew up with was a T-Rex, so yeah he'd be awesome. But he’s not in our continuity and the current Megatron is a good guy, so I’m not sure where he’d fit in. But honestly, these villains are pretty amazing. Colton is my favorite kind of villain because he believes he’s the hero. He is saving Earth by destroying Cybertron and committing Transformer genocide. He is so amazingly misguided. He also has a deep personal connection to our main hero, Scarlett, so this becomes a very personal fight. What makes the rest of our cast of villains so great is how they really don’t like each other but still work well together, because they are all vicious and very skilled at killing, which is the job.

DR: I don’t know, those guys cast a pretty big shadow and chew all the scenery they can get their sinister mitts on. They also come loaded with years and years of preconceptions. It was nice to have some room to breathe with this set of villains and give them a spotlight.

MD: I really like the mix of characters I get to draw. Sure, there are a few characters that would have been fun to tackle that don’t headline this adventure, but I think the roster we do have more than makes up for that. Lady Storm Shadow and Shazrealla are two newer characters with fantastic designs that are an absolute blast to draw.

Cover to First Strike #2 with retailer incentive cover by Leonardo Manco

Can we expect more titles besides the announced one-shots bridging this to the third act, presumably next year? After all, Revolution was just short of 30 comics after all of the one-shots and tie-ins were tallied.

DR: I’m sure one of our lovely editors would LOVE to answer this question.

MS: Hedgecock?

David Hedgecock: Everything you need to enjoy FIRST STRIKE is contained within the mini-series and the one-shots. Coming out of the event, we have all-new, exciting storylines that will be new-reader-friendly!

Are there any deep cut characters who makes a significant contribution to First Strike, perhaps a character that has thus far been relegated to the background in their respected property that we should look forward to?

DR: Not to oversell them, (probably already too late for that) but I am team Lady Stormshadow/Lady Shazraella all the way! I look forward to each of their scenes.

MS: Ironhide gets to come back in a cool way leading the defense of Cybertron and I loved writing Destro as one of the villains. Also I think Till All Are One fans will really see Elita’s frustrations with Starscream and Optimus come to a boil. Also, I just want to add that this event has been amazing to co-create with Max and David. We really have tried to tell a big action blockbuster summer movie here, but also really dig down and make this story personal. The best part of crossovers is letting characters who don’t normally interact challenge each other in interesting ways. If you are a fan of any of these series, I don’t think you will want to miss out on First Strike. And if you don’t read any of these but want to start, why not go big and start with the crazy adventure that stars everybody, then continue to follow your favorite characters whereever they go next?


First Strike is a six-issue mini-series that will be released twice-monthly, beginning in August. In addition to the main story, there will be one-shots including Micronauts: First Strike by Christos Gage and Chris Panda, G.I. Joe: First Strike by Aubrey Sitterson and Ilias Kyriazis, Optimus Prime: First Strike by John Barber and Guido Guidi due out in September; then in October M.A.S.K.: First Strike by Gage and Kyriazis and Rom: First Strike by Gage and Panda, and Transformers: First Strike by Barber and Guidi. Finally, in November, G.I. Joe: Unmasked will further the team up of G.I. Joe and M.A.S.K after the events of First Strike.