Caught in the Nexus: Simon Furman
Posted By Iain Burnside on 08.04.2006

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Simon Furman is the quintessential Transformers writer. His first big break came in the '80s when he wrote the vast majority of the original THE TRANSFORMERS comic book for Marvel, plus its British counterpart published by the now-defunct Marvel UK. The run is widely considered by Transformers fans to be definitive and included the introduction of several key elements to the mythology, such as Primus and the Liege Maximo. Furman returned to the franchise in 2003 to work on TRANSFORMERS: ARMADA and TRANSFORMERS: THE WAR WITHIN as Dreamwave Productions expanded upon their recently-acquired property, though unfortunately the company's bankruptcy meant they were not concluded. Now IDW has the publication rights to the ever-popular Robots in Disguise and Furman remains at the creative helm, launching an all-new interpretation of the TF universe with the TRANSFORMERS: INFILTRATION mini-series and expanding upon it in TRANSFORMERS: STORMBRINGER (of which issue #2 is released this week!). A third volume, TRANSFORMERS: ESCALATION, will be out later this year, as will a series of one-shots focusing on individual characters, beginning with Shockwave, and a sequel to the recent BEAST WARS: THE GATHERING mini-series.

Furman is also writing for Marvel again, having re-imagined his Death's Head character in the "Unnatural Selection" arc of AMAZING FANTASY and handled the ANNIHILATION: RONAN mini-series.

For further details, check out the WildFur site he runs with regular collaborater Andrew Wildman, and the official IDW site.


Iain: Hi Mr Furman, thanks for taking the time to speak with us! There certainly seems to be a lot happening on the Transformers front these days. Let's start with the recently-concluded INFILTRATION mini-series that kicked off the IDW franchise. New publisher. New continuity. New opportunities. A little daunting? What were your goals in establishing this new take on the mythology and do you feel that you accomplished them?

Simon Furman:
Well, for a start, I didn’t just want to rehash what had gone before. Telling the same story, more or less, over again held no attraction for me. Been there, done that. So, I aimed to do three things. Firstly, update the saga/concept/characters and make them more relevant to world today. Secondly, reinstate the whole concept of ‘robots in disguise.’ And thirdly, adopt a style and pace that mirrored, somewhat, what Marvel were doing on their Ultimate line. I wanted to make the series as accessible as possible for new readers, lay the groundwork at a pace that would draw people gradually in, deeper and deeper. Sure it was a daunting proposition, but at the same time it was hugely exciting. This was, at last (after 20 plus years) MY take on Transformers. Have I succeeded? That’s not for me to say. There’s been some resistance from fans to the slow-burn approach, but that was always going to be the case with the first arc. It’s the groundwork, the bedrock. Now... we can start to build, to expand, to open things up. Stormbringer, the one-shots, Escalation... it’s all going to snowball rapidly now. What I am pleased about is the cohesiveness of the TF Universe we’re building at IDW. Everything interlocks, everything works, and gradually we’ll see various disparate strands and storylines start to interweave and mesh. But it’s not, repeat NOT, going to happen overnight.

Iain: As usually seems to be the case, there were a few fans rather disappointed to see human characters getting so much attention in INFILTRATION. Given that the comics are effectively aimed at a niche market and not chiefly concerned with selling toys, as opposed to the cartoons, do you feel it is necessary to include human characters in them?

I really feel the human perspective is integral and even essential when you're setting your stories, primarily, on Earth. One of the things I wanted to put back in TF was sense of awe, the idea of towering alien giants among us. The human cast serve to establish a level, and then you see that everything else is operating on a much bigger, grander scale. The humans also ground the more overtly sci-fi elements of the tale, give it perspective/reaction. Otherwise, it's just another space opera, and you soon forget just how big everything really is. I also wanted to show another side to the Transformers, and what they do. I mean, what's the point of being able to adopt a local disguise on page 2 if you then reveal your presence to all and sundry by page 6? I wanted to create a 'they are among us' sort of vibe, to play up the kind of modern paranoia about extraterrestrials. And to do that effectively, you need the human perspective. Also, one of the key themes of TF is what the humans teach the robots. They think they understand Earth and its conventions but they don't, and the 'involved' human provide that connection. I'm certainly in no hurry to lose the human cast. Sure, there are times when we'll go 'all-robot,' like Stormbringer and some of the one-shots, but largely the series is about Earth, and so humans are a given. The most difficult thingâ€"�in terms of number of pages/panelsâ€"�is striking a balance between the humans and the robots. I'm stuck in the middle of (some) fans who complain about the amount of space devoted to the humans and then, in almost the same breath, complain that the human characters don't have much depth (character/background-wise). You can't win.

Iain: The hologram-drivers for the Autobot vehicles was a great touch. It seems like something they could use in the new movie to get a few familiar faces in for the general audience. Did you have much input into the new Transformers character designs, or did they mainly come from E.J. Su and Don Figuerora? And I must say they are both doing phenomenal work; I can no longer wear a hat without immediately taking it off for them!

Largely, I’ve left the (re)designs wholly to EJ and Don. I have the odd suggestion or I’ll give them feedback on designs or possible updated vehicle modes, but for the most part I do my thing and let them get on with doing what they do best. EJ and I have had lots of email exchanges about modern vehicular equivalents of the classic 80s characters. Like, what kind of tank should Blitzwing be, or which current model most closely matches Nightbeat’s original. Mostly, but not exclusively, you have Don doing the retro designs (what they look like in Cybertronian configuration) and EJ doing the modern Earth designs. Both are doing a fantastic job, IMO. I can’t imagine a situation where I’d ever say, to either, �"No, it should be/look this way.” And wait’ll you see what Nick Roche has done with the Dinobots!! We had some fun there!

Iain: There have been some interesting alterations made on the inside of the characters as well, of course. Ratchet is more adventurous, Prowl more assertive, Megatron (somehow) more ruthless, not to mention Optimus Prime being haunted by memories of the war. Can you tell us a little about these new interpretations?

Again, it has to do with no wanting just to tell the same exact story. While I don’t want to mess with what are great and well-defined characters already, I see no reason not to redefine that specific quality (or lack thereof) or play up another angle, or simply defy people’s expectations. Ultra Magnus is a good case in point. I didn’t want to do that aspect of him living in Prime’s shadow somewhat, unsure of his role in the larger Autobot army (I’d done that in the third volume of War Within, to an extent). So, in his one-shot, I gave him an entirely different role, a quite definite, unwavering personality (maybe too unwavering, as it turns out), and made him the spur for some big, big stuff that’ll (eventually) mesh with the core (Infiltration, Escalation, etc) storyline. I’m having so much fun, ‘seeding’ larger stories in the one-shots. Though complete in and of itself, all five have elements, large and small, that will impact on the core series.

Iain: Also, as seen in STORMBRINGER, Cybertron itself has changed drastically and is now uninhabitable for all Transformers. With the war for their world nullified, how the Autobot/Decepticon dynamic changed?

The TF saga always seemed to me to be largely about Earth and Cybertron. I really wanted to broaden things out, to make it a real star-spanning (multi-front) conflict. The obvious answer was just to take Cybertron out of the equation. They’ve moved on, out of necessity, and the shape and form of the war has changed (perhaps irrevocably) because of it. Though Cybertron will continue to feature, the action will be set on a number of other worlds too. Earth will become more and more pivotal, but it’s still just one of a large number of fronts on which the war is being fought. The Decepticons (post-Cybertron) have a gameplan, a staged, defined strategy, and the Autobots are largely reactive, pulled here and there, trying (and sometimes failing) to stop them. It all gives me a much larger canvas on which to paint the big and small stories.

Iain: Since the Autobots and Decepticons didn't crashland on Earth millions of years ago (or did they...?) how far is each side from Earth? Presumably they can still get there rather quickly, as with Optimus Prime appearing in INFILTRATION #6...

The Autobots/Decepticons did not crashland on Earth millions of years ago. That element of the original mythos is gone. But, and it’s a big BUT, there’s been a connection with Earth that does go back a LONG way/time. In fact, there are several (pre-Infiltration) links that will slowly but surely come to light. The Shockwave one-shot fills in a lot (but by no means all) of the blanks, and further hints are to be found, if you know where to look, in at least one of the other one-shots. Oh, and there’s the mystery of what did happen to the very first Ark (and its crew!). As to how they physically travel, there’s definitely a whole interstellar drive thing going on, so there’s the capacity to get where they’re going in a hurry, if necessary.

Iain: How far is the IDWTFU (yay, acronymania!) likely to expand? Quintessa? Junk? Nebulos? Unicron?

Nebulos, yes. In both Stormbringer and one of the one-shots. Junk? No plans as yet. Quintessa likewise. Unicron, definitely on the backburner. I’ve no foreseeable plans to go there. I feel strongly the character has been overused. Instead, I’m laying in some potentially apocalyptic alternatives. Again, hints of these in (some of) the one-shots.

Iain: The one-shots announced so far include Shockwave, Nightbeat, Hot Rod, Six Shot and Ultra Magnus. What made you choose those five?

In some cases, the story I wanted to tell (or the facet of the larger back story I wanted to introduce) kind of dictated which up front character I used. In other cases, it was because I have a particular fondness for the character (Nightbeat). In at least one case, Sixshot, it was because it was a character I’d never done before, and one I thought had heaps of potential. In another case (Hot Rod), it’s because the way the character had originally been played irked me, and I felt needed a retool. But each of the one-shots also, along with the featured character, has at least one or more guest stars. Lots of surprises in store there, I guarantee it. For anyone who felt the storytelling in Infiltration was somewhat decompressed, I urge you to give the one-shots a try. There’s a LOT of story crammed into each.

Iain: What is the status of the female Autobots nowadays - and how come there aren't any female Decepticons? Well, there's Starscream and his queening ways, I guess... but... yeah...

I’m slightly ducking and diving around the issue of ‘female’ Transformers until I can find something, a rationale, that works for me (and for the rebooted storyline as a whole). Take Pretenders. As a concept, it never really, shall we say, inspired me. But (in Stormbringer) I looked for ways to take the basic concept and turn it into something I could work with, something that made more sense and I felt readers would buy into. I’m aiming to do something similar with the Micromasters (the Nightbeat one-shot kind of introduces them), in terms of re-applying them to the larger IDW-TF saga. Maybe I’ll do likewise for ‘female’ Transformers. It’s a tough one, though. Every time I try and rationalize gender in giant robots it makes my head hurt. The Beast Wars TV series did it really well, though. So maybe it’s just me.

Iain: Can you tell us a little about what ESCALATION has in store for us?

Expect more on the Machination, the covert human organization that seems to know a whole LOT about Transformers. They certainly, as Escalation quickly establishes, know how to HURT them! Expect more on how, exactly, the staged Decepticon operation on Earth works (and progresses!). We introduce to the concept of ‘facsimiles’ and how the Decepticons use them to fan the flames of unrest and conflict around the globe. Expect Megatron in his Earth mode (yes, we are getting into the whole mass-displacement thing!), Optimus Prime in action, the first full-on terrestrial clash between the two leaders, Autobot reinforcements (again, tie-ins here to the one-shots), the shocking fate of Hunter, more on the status of Starscream and aftershocks from the events in Stormbringer. I’ve just seen the first batch of art from Escalation #1, and EJ’s at the top of the game. You can see his confidence and craft blossoming with each issue.

Iain: The first BEAST WARS mini-series was enjoyable, although it was a little difficult keeping track of the large cast of largely unknowns. Was there a reason for avoiding Optimus Primal and friends and will they appear in the future?

The trouble with Beast Wars (the TV series) is that it’s a complete and fully functional entity in its own right, and I really didn’t want to tamper with that. I didn’t want to start pulling threads and get myself tangled up putting things back the way they were. Plus, I really wanted to feature the cast that never made it into the show, and establish my own key characters. Hence the decision to bring in the likes of Razorbeast and Magmatron and ‘displace’ the action from the TV show (somewhat). I may pull things a little tighter together for the second mini-series, but the focus will remain firmly on the new cast. I will, however, be looking in on Cybertron much more in the second BW series, which means some of the Japanese characters will get to strut their stuff. I’m always mindful, however, that stuff needs to gel with the larger BW/Beast Machines continuity, and I’ll tie in directly whenever I get the chance.

Iain: The BW and G1 stories don't share the same continuity at IDW, correct?


Iain: It is quite remarkable that what began as a few toy cars in Japan has established a lasting legacy of nearly 25 years, with another major push coming next year thanks to the movie. How do you account for this sustained popularity? It can't all just be nostalgia, can it?

I just think the core concept is so strong, and so adaptable to each new generation/audience. With Infiltration/Escalation, I wanted desperately to lose the ‘retro’ 80s tag that Transformers seemed to be saddled with (outside of the fanbase). The movie no doubt will take the same kind of ‘here and now’ stance, but with a certain amount of respect for what’s gone before.

Iain: IMDB has you listed as a "writing consultant" on the new TF movie. What exactly is your role on the project?

I currently have no direct link to the movie. I’ve had very encouraging chats with the likes of Don Murphy, Tom DeSanto and Lorenzo DiBonaventura, but so far those haven’t translated into an actual offer of work. I’m ever hopeful, but as time passes it seems less likely I’ll be any sort of consultant this time around. I am, however, connected with several projects peripheral to (but connected with) the movie. Can’t talk about those yet. It’s all very exciting.

Iain: Now that Christian Dery owns the Dreamwave assets, including its non-third party properties, will you be continuing the NECROWAR series?

I’ve spoken with Christian, and he seems keen to resurrect Necrowar. As with a lot of other things, (original) Dreamwave-related, that feels like unfinished business, and I’d certainly be up for any kind of rebooted Necrowar.

Iain: Thank you for sharing your time with us, Simon!

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