Roche and Roberts Wreck n' Rule!
James Roberts and Nick Roche discuss Last Stand of the Wreckers
December 1st, 2009
No job is too big and no mission too dangerous for the Wreckers! The Autobots' elite commando unit are the bots Prime turns to when the going gets really tough, and they've been kicking ass ever since their explosive debut in the 1986 Marvel classic Target 2006. Some 24 years on the team is all set to Wreck n' Rule again, as they undertake their most suicidal mission to date - breaking into the Garrus 9 space prison!
At the helm for this hugely anticipated five-comic series is the much respected Nick Roche and James Roberts, in their first professional collaboration. Both are proud that their story, which launches in January 2010 from IDW publishing, will be the first Transformers #1 of the new decade... and what a ride it promises to be. Not all your favourite characters will make it back from this one - you've been warned! OneShallStand.com finds out what Nick and James have in store... (contains teasers not spoilers).
Q1) Welcome James and Nick - thanks for agreeing to talk to us about Last Stand of the Wreckers. Firstly what's it been like working together?
James Roberts: Well obviously it's like all our dreams come true (eh, Nick?). We're like Mulder and Scully, or Sam and Al, or Morrissey and Marr. We've known each other for a while, and we're fans of each other's work, but this was our first proper collaboration. As you'd expect, Nick brings a tremendous creative energy to proceedings - and it's infectious. Obviously he's a phenomenal artist - and my god, he's excelled his own sky-scraping standards with this series - but he's a fantastic writer as well. I know, what a curse that must be.
I suppose there was a possibility that we could have clashed over the fate of certain characters, or the moral choices that the selfsame characters make, but that never happened - the momentum of the story carried us both in the same direction.
As with any good collaboration, you end up feeding off the other person's enthusiasm. Ideas would bounce back and forth, sparking off new ideas in the process. We had to reign ourselves in, otherwise we'd have been asking IDW for five more issues. And of course we'd try to outdo each other with our fanboy TF knowledge, peppering the art direction in the draft scripts with deliberately obscure reference points.
Nick Roche: Nightmarish. Kinda like being back at school: bullying notes pinned to my desk; photos of James on a date with my mum; the remnants of what may have been a chicken stashed in my pencil case. I'm so glad James is adept at crafting stultifyingly beautiful works of robot-based fiction, because as a human being, he's unsalvageable.
The work process has been lovely though, and it fulfils a long-held ambition to work with James since our fanzine days. We never quite managed to collaborate back then, but it's nice to know we were crushing on one another's adolescent offerings even then. We both like to take our Transformers stories to similar places, so it's good to have that level of trust and undertsanding, and we both operate as that essential 'extra set of eyes' for one another's contributions; catching the goofs and gaffes that the other was too close to the material to see.
And the moral support is great too, and I'd like to think that goes both ways. If one of us is having a speed-wobble of a day, the other has a no-nonsense and constructive path to dragging them back off the window-ledge/messageboard/delete where applicable.
Q2) Why the Wreckers?
JR: I was brought in after that had been decided, so I refer you to Nick for an answer.
NR: On paper, it makes sense for two old-skool Transformers UK fansops like us to breathe new life into a team that first made its appearance in Marvel UK's Target: 2006 in 1986. And I assume the powers that be at IDW knew that those old comics is where my Transformers education formally began, and thought I'd enjoy helming a miniseries based on their current incarnation.
In the current IDW continuity, The Wreckers feature Springer and Kup, the two robots that I'd probably be most associated with from my previous writing. They had the idea that a Wreckers series should form part of the relaunch selection of titles (including the ongoing series and Cannon and Chee's Bumblebee mini) giving fans a 'Robots in Space' tale to counter the earth-based shenanigans of the other two books. Andy and Denton gave me the nod, and when it was obvious that the locked-in due date for the book meant that it might be too much for one guy to write and draw exclusively, there was only one co-writer I had in mind to jump on board. Sadly, Neil Gaiman was crab-fishing with some warlocks that day, and I emailed James Roberts in absent-minded fury.
Q3) What can you tell us about the story without giving too much away?
JR: Apart from the fact that it'll be one of those Transformers stories that defines the new century? Apart from confirming that it contains enough gloves-off, teeth-bared, spine-shattering robot violence to give even hardened TF fans palpitations? Apart from the hitherto unplumbed dramatic depths it, er, plumbs?
'Last Stand...' is firmly in the here-and-now, but it takes place far away form Earth and the mainstream TF storyline; and while it's absolutely rooted in the wider TF Universe, its remote, largely self-contained setting gives us a chance to do some unexpected things and hopefully pull the rug out from readers' feet now and then. Which is always good.
I think the story strikes a delicate balance between action and characterization, between widescreen set pieces and those intimate moments that maybe you don't get too often in the TF Universe. The prelude to the mission itself and certain 'catch-your-breath' sequences on G-9 lend themselves to quieter, dialogue-driven moments, and that gives us the opportunity to explore what it means to be a Wrecker. What sets them apart from their fellow Autobots? Why would somebody want to be join a glorified suicide squad? What happens once you've spent hundreds of years carrying out the kind of missions no-one else wants to touch? What does that do to you as a soldier - as a person?
We also had a chance to expand the Wrecker mythos - we've delved into their history a bit and gave them some sturdier roots. A proper backstory, with new characters and nemeses!
What I will say is that we've tried to push this story out in all directions. It's not just a then b then c then d; it's not a simple succession of events. There is mystery and intrigue and sustained delay. There are verbal asides and background details that become more significant as the series moves forward. I love it when seemingly innocuous comments or everyday events take on a new significance when considered in retrospect, and that's why we've aimed for in 'Last Stand...'.
And besides, where's the fun in having everything laid out for you on a plate? Readers like to join the dots themselves. Guessing is good, and sometimes you can answer a question with another question - provided there's a pay-off at the end. And believe me, there's a hell of a pay off in issue 5.
NR: Some days, James does all the writing himself - like here for instance. I like those days.
Q4) Will the Wreckers be the tight-knit unit from Target 2006 or the expanded team we saw in Stormbringer?
JR: Hmm. I want to say 'tight-knit', but there are 10 of them. They ARE tight-knit insofar as there's a banter and a unity, a sense of shared purpose and solidarity that sets these guys apart - almost to the point of alienation. It's fun to lock into that 'otherness' - especially when they spend most of their time waist-deep in Decepticons, daggers between their teeth, executing the type of daredevil maneuvers that puts the majority of Autobots to shame.
I think there's a tight-knittedness that forms in perilous situations amongst groups of people that wouldn't normally get along, and that's the sort of relationship the Wreckers have with one another. They're an odd collection of souls, but they could all die tomorrow, so that ups the banter and chit-chat quotient.
NR: We've made some radical additions to the team though -at the expense of classic members, such as Roadbuster, Whirl, Sandstorm and Broadside - so that plays into the idea that it's a rotating roster of potential bodybags making up the team. Where are those missing Wreckers? Not in this series, but not written-off either. The nice time-cushion between All Hail Megatron and the relaunch lets us tuck things mysteriously away until later...
Q5) Were you tempted to include Impactor?
JR: Yes, we were tempted. He was our favorite of the original Transformers UK line-up - one of those characters who became iconic in the space of a few issues, without a toy to back him up. Takes some doing. Damn you, Furman!
NR: As well as that, it might have been a tad indulgent to squeeze a character like Impactor in there. WE love the guy, but would there really be much anticipation or recognition upon his reappearance? Hard to know. There's definitely some of that UK Comic flavour in there, but just not in the shape of ol' harpoon-hand himself.
Q6) Preview images released by Ryall appeared to include new characters (Overlord?), what can you tell us?
JR: If it looks like Overlord and it acts like Overlord...Let's just say that the well of canonical TF characters runs deep, and there were opportunities to weave some of them into the story.
NR: This series ticks a lot of boxes, I feel. The Animated Movie crowd will dig on Springer, Kup and Perceptor (as well as another familiar face or two); those looking for previously toy-only characters to get some love are gonna be chuffed, and we mine the Japanese and European inventory of characters too. if you know who these guys are, you'll get ever such a lovely buzz, but if you're new to all this, we make sure you know all you'll need to about the characters you should be caring about.
Q7) The spoiler teasers for February suggest a high body count, anyone significant?
JR: I remember the old Transformers UK comic saying of 'Time Wars', "you may be thinking, 'They can't kill him!', but we can and we will!" That's kind of how it is on 'Last Stand...'. The clue's in the title...
So yeah, characters do die. Hopefully, readers will react to each death differently. Readers can become desensitized to robots being blown up in a variety of ways. Unless the death means something to the reader, it's meaningless.
NR: We've started to become attached to certain characters in unusual and unexpected ways. If we can make the reader feel a sliver of that when they read this series, we should hopefully pull the rug from underneath their feet on a few occasions as body after body piles up. The hope is that all those unfamilar faces staring out at you from the cover of #1 will be significant to you by the end of the series. And I think we're doing some lovely stuff with familiar characters who've never really had any moments of note in previous fiction. Just because they haven't been seen on the cover to #1, doesn't mean certain other Wreckers won't take on a whole new importance during the course of 'Last Stand...'
Q8) Question for Nick, how has having James aboard changed the story from your original concept?
JR:Well, I argued that we drop the interlude in pre-Renaissance France. Anything else, Nick?
NR: Dammit, James. I know for a fact that folk will hanker for a pre-Renaissance France interlude for ever now. The book just won't seem complete to them without it...
The story's been an ever-changing thing anyway, so some of the Roberts Factor is hard to pinpoint. In fact, why is here in the first place? Gaiman's back from fishing, and he's brought Moore and Morrison back with him...
James was brought in partly as a labour-saving device while I could crack on with some art. As it turns out, he's the hero of the piece in my eyes, for the depth and nuance he's brought to the project. It's hard to get into specifics without spoiling the story, but James has changed the direction for the better. It's crazy how much dimension one man from the fictitious island of Guernsey can give to a project. Maybe ask this question again after #5 is released.
Q9) What did IDW say when they read the story?
JR: Our editors - Andy, Denton and Carlos - have been involved every step of the way, encouraging us to develop certain ideas further and vetoing suggestions that maybe clashed with other plans for certain characters.
They're as excited about the series as we are; they've encouraged Nick and I to explore aspects of the TF Universe, conceptually speaking, that have never been explored before, in any continuity. And we have. Oh yes.
NR: It was important to remember too that we're very much at the kick-off of the brave new direction IDW has in store for Transformers. We're gonna be the first Transformers comic with a #1 on it of the new decade. The story had to serve the purpose of tying in to what's gone before and complementing Mike and Zander's series. So most of the feedback from the brass was to ensure we were tethered to the other launch titles a little. And it's this consistency across the board that I think most comic-reading Transformers fans have wanted for quite a while.
There's something in these three series for everyone; if the ongoing book or the Bumblebee series aren't what you need right now...well, shame on you, and fie upon your land, for starters...well, there's every chance a relentless juggernaut of a story featuring giant robots breaking in to a prison, a long, hard look at Autobot morality, and a group of characters who will all have to pay the piper in some form or another by #5 will be just what you need.
'Last Stand of The Wreckers: There Will Be Splash Pages.'
Q10) Will you collaborate on any Transformers stories (official or otherwise) in future?
JR: If reader reaction is positive, who knows? I'd certainly love to collaborate again.
NR: I'd like to think we will. I love having a hand in the scripted direction of things, but I look forward to the day when James hands me a script he's written and I bugger off and draw it. Nice, easy transaction. But to ensure this happens, we'll need the support of the reader. At the time of writing; Transformers #1 has just sold out. Now, I'm not sure we can repeat that feat, mainly because our book doesn't feature strutless wimps like that there Optimus Prime, who seems to be the main character of this franchise. But I hope the long-term TF-heads will come on this journey to Garrus-9 with us. Buy this book!
Many thanks for talking to us guys - it's been a real pleasure.
So if James and Nick have got you in a frenzy about this new series make sure to reserve your copy of issue #1 (out in January 2010 priced $3.99) from your local comic dealer.