Spencer Ellsworth writes:
Simon Furman is, to quote the man himself, "like unto a living god," at least for Transformers fans. He started out writing for Marvel UK in the 80's, and saw the Transformers comic through a legendary period, penning the most memorable TF comics in the franchise's history.
Recently IDW gave Furman a chance to pick up his twenty-year-old story lines in an epic what-if series called ReGeneration One (think X-Men Forever, with giant robots). The series picked up in 2012 at issue #81, following the final issue, #80 released in 1991, and will conclude with issue #100 in March.
First, Simon, let me repeat what you've heard many times: I grew up on your work, and like many others, shed some childhood tears when the Marvel series came to an end, and it's been very exciting to see ReGeneration One.
Spencer Ellsworth: ReGeneration One has been a dream project for quite a few years–twenty-three, yes?
Simon Furman: It's the original series, the one that really started everything. Before Marvel (and in particular Jim Shooter, who wrote the original treatment, and Bob Budiansky, who developed it and put meat on the bones) got ahold of it, it was mostly just a bunch of (largely nameless) toys imported from Japan. They crafted the backstory of Cybertron and the civil war that has underpinned everything since. So there was a great weight of expectation on finishing it well, which I never thought we did at the time. When we learned the book was being cancelled (back in 1991), we had just two issues to bring it to a conclusion of sorts, and that meant a lot of the stuff we'd set in motion just never got addressed, or we kind of cheated/rushed it. We'd only just killed off Optimus Prime, and now — suddenly — we had to get him back. We tied a neat looking bow on it, but it wasn't the conclusion it deserved. So it's wonderful to be able to finally finish it with due pomp and circumstance. It's not exactly how we'd have done it back then, but it feels suitably epic. All loose ends tied up.
SE: How do you feel about ending it after all this time?
SF: Mixed emotions. Both Andrew (Wildman) and I were only interested in doing this if it was to bring it to conclusion. So it feels like job done. Finally. But it's quite sad too, because you get invested in it and the characters all over again. You start seeing new angles and new story possibilities and you have to resist, because everything is supposed to be building to a wrap-up. You can't risk opening any new doors. But mostly I feel satisfied that we've done the book proud and can be proud ourselves of what (even as purely Regeneration One) has become a substantial body of work. We originally envisioned a 5 or 6-issue limited series. So to get 20, plus an 80.5, an issue #0 and a giant-sized final issue is just incredible. We really can't complain.
SE: Tell us a little of what we can expect in issue #100.
SF: A lot of connectivity. Issue #100 will – l hope – feel like the capstone to a 100-issue series, rather than just Regeneration One. The thing that's been building, that comes to a head this issue, has its roots in the original series as much Regeneration One. So I hope readers feel the full impact of the 'bigger picture', the thing that's been tick-ticking away in the background like a timebomb and now explodes. Certainly, as we join the story, the situation is already beyond dire. As one character puts it, "maybe we already lost this one." And honestly, maybe they have. But there's a still bigger picture that needs saving, even if it means a truly terrifying scale of sacrifice. Certainly there's no halfhearted cop-outs here, no magical quick fixes. But there's still a heck of a lot to strive for and some massive obstacles to overcome before they get there. It's backs to the wall time, against an enemy that in many ways is homegrown, a part of themselves.
SE: How much of the original plot line that you had in 1991 has ended up in ReGen One? Is this more or less what we would have gotten if Marvel realized what a good thing it had?
SF: One thing I wanted to bring to Regeneration One that probably (even certainly) wouldn't have been there back in the day was a sense of embracing everything Transformers that has come since 1991, between G1 and RG1. Transformers has expanded exponentially, and as well as tipping my hat to Generation 2 and the UK Transformers stories, I wanted the sense of this Transformers Multiverse (including every single iteration of Transformers you can name… from the various cartoon shows & toy lines (western and Japanese) to the IDW-verse to the movies and on and on) be an important part of RG1. That everything is connected. There's a lot of extra play on the whole "Till All Are One" idea that wouldn't have been there if this was a direct (at the time) continuation.
SE: I know that you adapted some of your aborted 1991 plots into the 1994 series Transformers: Generation 2, and you have now had a chance to "adapt it back" into its original form. Tell us a bit about that process.
SF: Strangely, Generation 2, while it picked up a few bits and pieces from the original series, became very much its own entity, and by sidestepping it I could pick and choose what I wanted from it without compromising what (if the original comic had continued) I wanted that to be. But with the intervening years everything has evolved, including the way I write and the way modern comics are. What we didn't want is for RG1 to look and feel old-fashioned/outmoded, so — while we adopted some of the look and feel — we went for something modern audiences wouldn't balk at. It had to have its own integrity. Sure, there are lots of call outs to what went before, but RG1 starts with a pretty level playing field, in the vernacular "a jumping on point", so you can treat it as a continuation or a 20-something limited series in its own right.
SE: What kind of nice superlatives do you have for Guido Guidi's recent work on the title?
SF: Oh, plenty. I mean I love Guido's work anyway. Have worked with him many times before. But I admit to being a little worried when Andrew had to drop out and Guido stepped in. We had a look and feel to the book that was working for me on all levels – new and yet old at the same time. We'd hit that nice balance of familiar (Wildman/Baskerville) and fresh (JP's colors). And I worried that Guido was a modern era Transformers artist, and that RG1 would end up looking like all the other IDW-verse titles. But Guido, who'd been doing these nice retro covers anyway, came in and kind of channeled his inner Wildman, and just blended his style in seamlessly with what had come before (aided, naturally, by having Baskerville inking him).
But Guido has been an utter trooper. No matter what I throw at him, no matter how big, sweeping or epic or small and focused, he gives it the same 100 per cent. And then you notice some small detail and see how much he's thinking about the stuff. In #100, I blithely ask for all the characters to transform to vehicle mode and "roll out", forgetting that Blaster is with them and he's a boom box. So I look close and there it is, in a packed panel anyway, Blaster transforming and a car door opening, and him slotting inside. Wow… just wow. I wish I could bottle and sell him.
SE: How many Furman-style gory deaths can we expect to see in ReGen #100?
SF: Not as many as you might think. I've tried to not over-indulge myself and maybe confound expectations a little. It's not a #75 in terms of the bodycount. At least not during the main action of the issue!!
SE: Please tell me you'll kill Wheelie.
SF: See above. Just too predictable. And it would have meant a whole introduction of the character. I think I exorcised my Wheelie demon in the Spotlight I did with Klaus.
SE: You've also been involved in numerous other iterations of the Transformers, particularly the "ultimate TFs" IDW continuity. How have you liked the work James Roberts and John Barber are doing these days?
SF: James and John are doing great work. I feel, finally, that the IDW-verse is in safe hands.
SE: Following on that, there are a lot of rising creators–Kieron Gillen, James Roberts, Nick Roche–who were raised on your Marvel run and are avowed fans. Do you have a favorite "child" whose work you particularly admire?
SF: Hah. They're all great. I don't play favorites. What's nice is Kieron, Nick and James are all great guys, on a personal level. I count them all as friends.
SE: Death's Head, the time-traveling bounty hunter, is popping up in the Marvel books these days. Any chance you'll be writing him again?
SF: In a second, yes?
SE: Now that you've done ReGen One, are there any dream Transformers projects remaining?
SF: I'm always up for more Transformers. But right now my mind hasn't even vaguely gone to a what's next scenario. I'm flat out busy on Matt Hatter Chronicles, How to Train Your Dragon, Marvel Fact-Files, a movie project, a creator-owned thing with Geoff Senior (that'll probably go live via Kickstarter later this year), another with Andrew Wildman (in the TV animation realm), and even a potential stage show. Phew. Right now it's my workload that never ends.
SE: Finally, when can we expect ReGeneration 2? It never ends, Simon!
SF: Hey, never say never, that's my motto.