IDW's Hasbro Comic Book Universe raises the stakes right off the bat in the new year, starting with today's release of Transformers vs. Visionaries #1, merging the long and storied universe of the Transformers with the reboot of the short-lived cartoon of Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light. At the center of the Visionaries are two factions of knights, the Spectral Knights and the Darkling Lords, with each member represented by animal totems that they can turn into.
They find themselves refugees on Cybertron after Prysmos is destroyed as a result of the events in the Hasbro summer crossover, First Strike. But as diplomatic attempts to coexist disintegrate, Virulina of the Darkling Lords goes on the offensive and murders a fan-favorite Transformer (revealed below) threatening those who stand in her way. This is not your typical crossover, in which two properties meet, shake hands and go separate ways. SYFY WIRE spoke with the creative team behind the issue — Magdalene Visaggio, artist Fico Ossio, editor Sarah Gaydos, and assistant editor David Mariotte — about the impact of this loss and why it was significant as the story's moment of liftoff.
**Spoiler Warning: Major spoilers for Transformers vs. Visionaries #1**
Magdalene, what made Cybertron a likely home for New Prysmos and a launching point for the new Visionaries?
Magdalene Visaggio: That was decided long before I joined the team. When David Hedgecock first emailed me asking if I wanted to pitch for Visionaries, the initial starting point they gave me was basically "Prysmos has been destroyed and the Visionaries are refugees on Cybertron following the events of First Strike." I got to decide what had happened to Prysmos and why they'd chosen Cybertron.
What I found so intriguing was the contrast – essentially a civilization of Luddites seeking refuge on a planet of robots. And Merklynn had chosen it so specifically; there had to be a connection. That's when I realized that in so many ways this was a story about religion and ideology, about what the Prysmos as a non-technological society meant to Merklynn and the Visionaries. Prysmos represented an ideal, a blow against the rest of the technology-driven universe. Making Cybertron of all places the new Prysmos was about making a point as much as finding a new home.
David Mariotte: Editorially speaking, it just made sense. We had this MacGuffin, the Talisman, that we knew was going to bring the Visionaries to the universe. It's even named after an old MacGuffin from the previous Visionaries comic. But through threads we were weaving in Revolutionaries and other books, it was clearly tied to the Transformers too. Plus, there's this nice, natural conflict between the Visionaries, who gave up technology for magic, and the Transformers, who essentially are technology.
You had one season of television and a handful of six comics from Star Comics / Marvel Comics to pull from. What did you feel were the best elements, and which ones did you feel needed to be updated or brought to a more exciting place?
Magdalene Visaggio: There's a ton of great concepts in the old Visionaries cartoon from a storytelling standpoint. The basic structure of the show is super compelling. But I knew that that kind of content wasn't going to fly in 2017. So I approached this much like Ron Moore approached Battlestar Galactica: What's the stuff here that matters, versus what's the stuff here's that's designed to sell toys? We only have five issues to work with, so everything needed to be streamlined; initially that meant paring down the cast and simplifying the magical system, which in the show involves multiple animal totems, with some of the players getting magical staves and others getting the power to control ancient vehicles. I basically stripped everything down to something that wouldn't demand copious explanation: Everyone gets a staff that can summon holograms, nobody gets more than one totem, etc.
I also really can't stand it when villains exist for the sole purpose of being evil. So I needed to figure out what exactly separates the Darkling Lords from the Spectral Knights. You know, what is the story the Darklings are telling themselves where they're the good guys? So I landed on the idea that they're both factions of a single organization run by Merklynn – the Visionaries, natch – with different philosophies that went into schism. There's more there that's gonna come into play as the book unfolds.
Fico Ossio: We kept the original concept, the idea behind Visionaries, and started from there. After we had the story, we worked on what this world and characters should look like and then matched that with the original designs/characters and IDW's Transformers. But overall we wanted to do a complete update from the original for the most part.
Sarah Gaydos: For me, the key was having a believable situation where both the Visionaries and our current IDW version of Transformers all would exist believably in one place, so it just didn't make sense to stick with a vintage look. Fico did a fantastic job of updating the character design and mechanics of the Visionaries. I couldn't be happier with it!
Kup is killed at the end of the first issue, thus propelling this series. Why Kup, why now, and what was it about this story where you felt Kup's true death gave it the weight you needed to ignite this crossover?
Magdalene Visaggio: I'm a longtime Transformers fan. I grew up on the G2 stuff that was airing when I was a kid, and watched the old movie on an ancient VHS endlessly, so I have an incredible love for that curmudgeon. But I hadn't been keeping up to date with the comics – Transformers continuity is a ridiculously complicated minefield – so I didn't realize how much the character had grown. Despite that, I knew right away that killing Kup of all people was a massive responsibility, and I wanted to center the first issue on him as much as I could, to make his farewell mean something. He died trying to be the better man. Kup is always calling on people to be better. To me, that made it feel like it was worth a damn.
Fico Ossio: Gotta say it was a hard page to draw. I've been drawing Kup for a while now and even did the last design for him, so … Yup. Tough one! But honestly, the way Mags wrote it was fantastic. And it definitely shifts the story into high gear in a great way. We needed that.
David Mariotte: This is a crossover book, but it's also the debut of the Visionaries and it needed to have real, concrete stakes that would resonate for readers new and old. I think it was former editor Carlos Guzman who said in one of our early calls with Mags, let's kill Kup. And the room was simultaneously horrified and excited. Horrified, because we (especially me) loved Kup. Excited because it made perfect sense. Kup has been a part of the IDW Transformers series for 10 years and, in my opinion, really charted how the universe has developed. With the escalation of events in this series, and what they mean for this phase of our books, it just made sense to see the bold, new, Kup-less frontier.
He obviously provided many more big moments in the comics for IDW, and you highlighted some of those moments at the end of the book. Fans will want to see him avenged, right?
Magdalene Visaggio: And he's not going to be the only one to die before all this is over. This is a high-stakes story that is going to have long-term consequences for the IDW G1 franchise.
Fico Ossio: OH YES! I'm looking forward to drawing that.
Sarah Gaydos: Hell yes, I want to see him avenged. This book has real stakes, real emotions at play. Mags is doing a fantastic job with balancing all these aspects of intrigue, betrayal, grief, and somehow packing in a ton of heart all at the same time. And Fico's art, with colors by David Garcia Cruz, captures the incredible visuals of New Prysmos, while still bringing the spirit of Transformers everyone knows and loves to life.
What do you say to fans of Kup who might see his death, by a long-forgotten Hasbro property, as unworthy? How do you show them that he didn't die for nothing?
Magdalene Visaggio: The Visionaries are a freakish, unexpected new situation that Kup is navigating to the best of his considerable ability. On top of that, Cybertron is still recovering from its own series of disasters and trying to forge a new identity, and Kup's sacrifice is a part of that process. He died trying to make sure the Cybertron their building represents their highest ideals. He died a statesman.
Fico Ossio: He died upholding what he believed in and stood for. I reckon that's a hero's death.
David Mariotte: Kup died doing what the thought was right, and that's not for nothing.
Sarah Gaydos: Folks will absolutely have to read this series, as well as what is coming, to see. Kup's sacrifice is extremely noble, and I think before he was murdered, he had a sense of what was a stake. Cybertron is literally on the line.
At least you had him say Bah-Weep Gra-gnah Wheep, Ni Ni Bong one more time. He was this cranky, cantankerous old coot. What's your favorite Kup story?
Magdalene Visaggio: The first and the best: Transformers: The Movie.
Fico Ossio: Have to agree with Mags … and on a personal note, it's hard not to pick "Revolutionaries." That comic meant a lot to me, and I loved the dynamics with Ian (Action Man) on that one.
David Mariotte: My favorite story about Kup or my favorite story Kup told? Cuz there's this one about petro-rabbits … But really, I think it's "Spotlight: Kup." Nick Roche masterfully introduced him to this version of Transformers, and that story still gets me when I think about it.
One of the alluring things about this crossover is that we're looking at magic greatly affecting Cybertron and the Autobots. Readers will think this is a huge mismatch of wizards vs. Transformers, but magic is a great equalizer, isn't it?
Magdalene Visaggio: One hundred percent. The Transformers are up against the wall for the first time, and the situation escalates absurdly quickly. They went from "We're building a new future!" to "We're on the verge of extinction" in the space of probably less than 48 hours.
Fico Ossio: I think that the best part of the crossover. To have the Transformers face a danger completely new and out of their comprehension.
David Mariotte: As much fun as it can be watching giant robots punch the robo-snot out of each other, I think that real drama and interesting conflict comes from watching two forces that are mismatched. Transformers and humans have rumbled plenty of times before, but almost always with the help of other Transformers to build the humans up to their level. We've always been the underdog and had to rely on them. This time, the Transformers are facing a threat that they're kind of outmatched by, even though it's coming from such smaller guys. And that is interesting.
Sarah Gaydos: I absolutely love the inversion of power between these tiny little flesh creatures vs. these huge sentient, robotic creatures. And the fact that aversion to technology (and that's putting it lightly) is at the heart of the Visionaries lore, that just ties in so nicely together. Fico came up with a great visual depiction of what the magic does to the body of a Cybertronian, and it is … so gross …
With magic playing such a big part, you chose some interesting characters to combat that in Wheeljack, a scientist, Breakdown and Ironhide, a typically traditional, protective, and defensive voice. Talk about playing those personalities up against New Prysmos, Darkling Lords, and Spectral Knights.
Magdalene Visaggio: Ha, yeah. I actually didn't get much of a say in the matter, which I think is really cool. So many other characters were occupied in other books and stories, so these were the face characters that were available – which is kind of exactly how it happens in-universe, too; you don't always get to pick your team. I credit David Mariotte for handing me a group of Cybertronian heroes who would be a great foil to the Visionaries I was reinventing.
David Mariotte: It's true, there are a lot of other Transformers doing a lot of other things right now, but we worked with my predecessor, Carlos Guzman, to figure out a core handful of characters that would be available and a good fit. And a lot of them fell into place naturally. Ironhide is a head of security on Cybertron and suddenly there's this whole city with unknown capabilities that he has to deal with. Wheeljack's a scientist who is suddenly up against a force that defies explanation. Breakdown, and I'll never stop harping on how well Mags writes him, has been a background character for a while now, but he finally gets his chance to step up and show Cybertron what he's made out of.
Fico's art and character design are on display in this series. He had some great inspiration, I mean, who can forget those toys with the holographic chest plates and staffs, but perhaps Fico can walk us through these radical makeovers.
Sarah Gaydos: I'll let Fico speak to this, but I want to also shout out the incredible work that David Garcia Cruz is doing on colors!
Fico Ossio: Early on, without even having a pitch, I took the original designs of the characters and just tried to make them look as cool as possible, a bit more realistic maybe. But when Mags joined the team we all started taking about what to do with the book and that first design just wasn't working for either of us.
We wanted to give them a more ... "barbarian" feel to them rather than "Knights in shiny armors." As if they pieced it together with remnants of previous technology.
Diversity was a priority number one as well, so the original look of the characters and gender was left behind for the most part. We kept their chest emblems and their spectral animals and started from there. I kept checking the originals to pick some little things like the colors and some details of armor, but for the most part it was a complete update for them. Also we wanted to work around the staffs. I mean, it seemed impractical, so that's why I turned them into this shields and fractionated the pole in two parts, which became their weapons. Some kept their original ones. But the main characters, Leoric and Virulina and others work with this new practical design.
When they transform they pieced it all together. The chest plate is the main characteristic of the Visionaries, so there was no way around it. But I made it smaller and less clunky. Same reasoning than with the staffs, we wanted them to look more practical too.
After the murder of Kup, which Spectral Knight or Darkling Lord will readers find endearing? Which one will be the redemptive figure?
Magdalene Visaggio: The central figures of the book, on the Prysmosian side, are Leoric, Virulina, and Arzon. I've tried to stick to the show's depiction of Leoric as a well-meaning but flawed leader, and he makes some critical mistakes early on that cause trouble down the line. I personally really find his demeanor – emotionally shut-off, bewildered by his situation, making decisions on the fly and hoping they're the right ones – really attractive.
Virulina is an absolute joy to write. She's my Magneto, I guess; a cackling supervillain who has completely comprehensible motives that would be almost sympathetic if they weren't so extreme. She's the flip side of Leoric; where Leoric is driven by uncertainty, and is primarily a reactive force, Virulina is full of passionate intensity. She knows what she wants and goes after it.
Arzon is the real enigma. He's a Spectral Knight who constantly expresses doubt and skepticism with the course of action Leoric is pursuing.
Honestly, I really love them all: Galadria the inflexible doctrinaire, Witterquick the trash-mouthed smart-aleck, Cindarr the thoughtful and direct lieutenant, Cryotek the disappointed idealist. There's a lot to chew on with these guys, and I think there's someone for everyone.
Fico Ossio: It's hard to pick one. Mags is doing such a fantastic job building their personalities! But … I'd have to go with Virulina. It's one of those perfect villains that almost draws you to their view of things. Witterquick has some cool moments too.
David Mariotte: In terms of the Visionaries, Galadria really steps up throughout the series. She's my one to watch. She has a lot of heart. Meanwhile, I think all of us actually really like Virulina, despite knowing that she is just the worst. You'd never want to meet her, but she's fun to read about.
Sarah Gaydos: I'm just going to say that Virulina is the worst. She's so the worst, that she somehow flips back around and also becomes the best. The way Mags is writing her is just deliciously evil. Same with Merklynn.
And on the other side, which of the Transformers besides Ironhide steps up to honor Kup's legacy?
Magdalene Visaggio: Oh man, I don't wanna say.
Fico Ossio: We'll have to wait and see. Big shoes to fill!
Sarah Gaydos: You'll have to read to find out!
Be sure to check out how all the grisly details play out in the first issue of Transformers vs. Visionaries #1, available in print and digital today.