IDW has been publishing Transformers comics since 2005, nearly ten years now, and the sheer amount of titles to come out from them over all those time are certainly confusing. The main IDW output is a rebooted version of the Generation One continuity, but between multiple side stories, alternate-universe stories, tie-in fiction to whatever the then-current cartoon incarnation is, reprints of past Generation One fiction that has no ties to their own stuff and the sheer amount of title changes and soft reboots to the continuity means it’s a bit of a headache to navigate if you don’t have the patience to sift through publication dates. And if you’re working through trade paperbacks, make sure you know what you’re buying – IDW reprints a lot of Transformers stories from both Marvel and Dreamwave era stuff, though these can really be told apart from the titles.
So, as someone who’s been reading IDW’s Transformers from the beginning, let me give to you this guide. Basically, IDW’s original Generation One output can be divided across four different phases across different main authors and different writing styles: Simon Furman (2005-2008), Shane McCarthy (2008-2009), Mike Costa (2009-2011) and the current James Roberts/John Barber (2011-present).
Simon Furman Era (2005-2008)
Simon Furman, longtime scribe of the Transformers, begun the IDW Generation One continuity in late 2005, starting with ‘Infiltration #0’. Furman’s era of writing (known as the –ions series and the Furmanverse among the fans) preferred a slow-paced buildup told across six-issue miniseries, re-establishing his stories through slower-paced stories to re-introduce the concept of ‘robots in disguise’. Furman’s main arcs during this time are, in order of release, Infiltration (2005-2006), Stormbringer (2006), Escalation (2006-2007), Devastation (2007) and Revelation (2008). While having a relatively promising start, around the time of Devastation relatively poor critical response and sales numbers ended up future plans getting scrapped and for Furman to wrap up his story threads hurriedly in the four-issue Revelation mini (instead of six issues extending to another arc).
And while the idea was to have one single cohesive ‘Ultimate Transformers’ story that incorporated more ‘classic’ characters and less-famous ones like Sixshot and Hardhead, Furman began branching out and starting the Spotlight issues to introduce characters outside the main title and have them rejoin it as they become relevant, and thus the Spotlight side-series was created in 2006, starting with Spotlight Shockwave. This spawned several issues (Shockwave, Nightbeat, Hot Rod, Sixshot and Ultra Magnus) that form the first batch of spotlights which took place prior to Escalation and seeded some plot threads that are followed through there.
The next batch of spotlights released in 2007 and 2008 varied between tying in with the main plot with varying degrees, generally between Escalation and Devatation (Soundwave, Galvatron, Optimus Prime, Arcee, Grimlock) or being standalone. One of the more standalone ones is Spotlight: Blaster by Simon Furman, but there were several other spotlights done by guest writers, one of which is Spotlight: Kup done and written by ascended fan writer Nick Roche. Two other spotlights included Spotlight: Mirage by George Strayton (which is just an odd thing that doesn’t fit anywhere in continuity) and Spotlight: Wheelie (co-written by Furman and Klaus Scherwinski), both of which are harmless distractions. In my opinion, the numerous Spotlights proved to be extremely distracting as so many plot threads are built up. While the original few spotlights are stand-alone tidbits that added to the main title but wasn’t essential to comprehending it, the following flood of spotlight issues alternated between causing the main plot to make little sense if you don’t read it, or being so divorced from the main title it seems to happen elsewhere.
A four-issue miniseries, written by Eric Holmes known as ‘Megatron Origin’ was released in 2007, taking place in the distant past and acting as an origin story for the war and the Decepticons. While poorly received at the time, it would prove to be expanded upon with future series.
Also, in 2007, IDW and Marvel created a collaborative ‘New Avengers/Transformers’ crossover, written by Stuart Moore, taking place between the Escalation and Devastation arcs, which was met with extremely poor reception. It supposedly ties in to both continuities, but ends up basically getting ignored save for the one-shot Spotlight: Ramjet released shortly after that basically kills Ramjet off for getting introduced there.
All that happened in 2006 and 2007, which is generally messy with so many issues to follow, so in 2008 Simon Furman was told to wrap up his main ‘Dead Universe’ plotline with the Revelation miniseries, which itself is made up of four Spotlights: Cyclonus, Hardhead, Doubledealer and Sideswipe in order of reading. Furman would go on to wrap up some plot threads in ‘Maximum Dinobots’, but basically his reign as IDW’s main writer ended in 2008.
In addition to the Generation One series, however, IDW also released a large amount of other non-G1 materials. In 2006 Simon Furman took some abandoned Dreamwave concepts and released Beast Wars: the Gathering, a spinoff of the Beast Wars cartoon featuring non-show characters. It was followed with a sequel in 2007, Beast Wars: the Ascending, and a horribly-edited profile series, Beast Wars: Sourcebook, and those last two were met with extremely poor reception. Bob Budiasky, original writer of the Transformers, return to make a four-issue adaptation of the old 1986 Movie done with modern art. Another alternate universe output was the 2006 is the ‘Evolutions: Hearts of Steel’ four-issue miniseries written by Chuck Dixon which depicts a ‘what if’ scenario if the Generation One transformers woke up during the industrial revolution. IDW decided not to pursue this series further in fear of confusing its poor readers even further.
Tying in to the big 2007 live-action movie, IDW published a four-issue prequel series (again written by Simon Furman) and a comic adaptation. Afterwards, 2008 saw Chris Mowry head a sequel series, ‘the Reign of Starscream’, which featured a lot of characters stemming from the movie toyline. After that, acting as a prequel to 2009’s Revenge of the Fallen movie, Chris Mowry did two miniseries for it, Transformers: Alliance, detailing the events on Earth prior to ROTF, and Transformers: Defiance, telling the origin of the Fallen and the war in general. Both led to an official movie adaptation in 2009. All these IDW-original movie stuff would all contradict the movies themselves (Michael Bay certainly doesn’t really care what a bunch of tie-in comics would do to affect his massive blockbuster series!) and would require a lot of fixing up by John Barber in the far future. Cashing in on the Transformers: Animated cartoon, Marty Isenberg, editor for the cartoon, wrote ‘the Arrival’, a six-issue miniseries that acted as a bunch of side-stories for the cartoon. IDW would also later release ‘the Ark’ compendium of Generation One cartoon character models, and two Allspark Almanacs – massively Easter Egg-laden guides to the Animated universe and beyond.
Shane McCarthy Era (2009-2010)
Around 2008, IDW brought in writer Shane McCarthy to do a timeskip and a ‘soft reboot’ to give the IDW universe a breath of fresh air. While initially heavily panned by fans for its similarly slow pacing, randomly rewriting the personality of some characters, entire issues just devoted to Decepticon blowing stuff up and aborting several plot points of the Furman run, the 12-issue All Hail Megatron did manage to give the IDW universe somewhat of a fresh air. That’s not to say that McCarthy’s run isn’t problematic, but as time went on it ended up getting less vitriol, and certainly proved a nice stopgap while IDW tried to plan out the next few years of Transformers comics. McCarthy’s short run basically ended after this maxi-series, though All Hail Megatron is extended with a ‘Coda’ series, running four issues (#13-16) which tries to reconcile the inconsistencies within All Hail Megatron with the pre-established universe, as well as setting up the stage for the next era. Each Coda issue has two stories, some acting as prequels and some as sequels to the AHM arc. The original 12 issues of AHM were written entirely by McCarthy, whereas the Coda series was written by several people: Simon Furman, Shane McCarthy, Mike Costa (writer of the upcoming ongoing), Zander Cannon (writer of the upcoming Bumblebeee mini), Andy Schmidt and Denton J. Tipton (editors of the series); as well as the team of Nick Roche and James Roberts (both fan-favourite authors who will be prominent figures), who reconciled Kup and introducing the highly popular take of Prowl as an edgy Autobot who deals with more unsavoury Autobot missions. While some of the Coda series resolved inconsistencies regarding Kup and Perceptor (as well as showed some stuff going on elsewhere that made AHM make more sense), several stories set up the aftermath to bring up the stage for Mike Costa’s run, while one particular one set up Galvatron’s return for the future ‘Chaos’ arc of the Costa run.
While All Hail Megatron was ongoing, Simon Furman’s run concluded in 2009 with the five-issue miniseries Maximum Dinobots, tying up the Dinobot and Scorponok plot threads on Earth that went unresolved in Revelations. Maximum Dinobots takes place shortly after the events of Revelation, sort of setting up the timeskip for All Hail Megatron.
Another polarizing aspect of McCarthy often criticized is the introduction of fan character Drift, which caused a mighty uproar among some sections of the fandom thanks to taking all the tropes of fancharacters and rolling them into one, but after a while the hate mellowed out and generally became a grudging acceptance that Drift isn't horrible even during his first appearances. The Spotlights also make a return, though they go back to their roots as supplementary backstory to the characters that added to the story but are hardly necessary to understand the main ongoing. Shane McCarthy wrote three of them to tie in with characters newly introduced in AHM, namely Blurr, Cliffjumper and Drift. Josh van Reyk and Shaun Knowler, figures in the fandom which headed the Mosaic fancomic project were brought in to write Spotlight: Jazz, while Andy Schmidt went in with Spotlight: Metroplex which while pretty oddly standalone will end up being referenced to in numerous future issues.
Prior to the Costa run, IDW released ‘Continuum’, a hilariously bad attempt at allowing new readers to catch-up but probably confused them even more with a large amount of wrong facts.
On the Movie side of things, Simon Furman and Chris Mowry wrote the six-issue Tales of the Fallen, which acted as spotlights for several movieverse characters. Mowry helped reconcile Arcee’s conflicting appearances in the movie and the comics he had written, whereas Simon Furman set up plot threads for the six-issue Nefarious sequel to ROTF… and while Reign of Starscream is harmless fun with toy characters and a couple of guest stars from the movie, Nefarious is pretty much a horrible mess that is better left ignored. IDW seems to have learnt its lesson by releasing too much alternate-universe stuff, as from here on out the only real major outputs are their G1 comic and the increasingly-decreasing movie tie-ins.
Mike Costa Era (2009-2011)
Throughout 2009 to 2011, writer Mike Costa headed up the writing reins through an Ongoing just titled ‘the Transformers’, following up the aftermath of All Hail Megatron. It’s pretty negatively received due to dull story arcs, inconsistent editing with the Furman and McCarthy material, controversial art style change by Don Figueroa and the poorly-received bastard humans in general that took a major focus of the comic. While there were some issues that were well-written, such as those that featured Thundercracker, the general oddity of the writing style, seemingly random plot changes and even more character inconsistency (with several even being the polar opposites of what they originally were -- Prowl and Rodimus got the most flak for criticism) even within Costa’s own work ended up being pretty polarizing. Among one of the most egregious issues written by Costa is to have an issue consist of only an unlikable human ranting on and on about how Transformers suck before killing one with a bottle of acid. The general heaviness of humans in these issues and the Transformers basically being portrayed as useless or earth-loving hippies makes all but the last few arcs frowned upon by a majority of the fandom, though it isn't so much the fact that Mike Costa being a bad writer but rather him admitting himself that his writing style doesn't fit the Transformers. Don Figueroa’s change in art style which featured skeletal, inhuman faces also met with rejection from a lot of fans. One of the main contributors to the mess around, however, was probably editor Andy Schmidt (who was behind the disastrous Continuum book), who openly mocked the fandom’s “fixation on canon” which probably led to a lot of the story and character inconsistencies that plagued this run.
Only one spotlight was released in this era, Spotlight: Prowl, written by Prowl and received mixed reviews from fans – some decried the change from the more interesting, morally ambiguous character written by Nick Roche from All Hail Megatron and Last Stand of the Wreckers, whereas some didn’t mind the more traditional take to the character. Instead of spotlights, however, IDW opted to release a series of four-issue character miniseries throughout 2010. Transformers: Bumblebee took place in between the Costa issues, written by Zander Cannon, who’s written a Bumblebee piece during AHM. Transformers: Ironhide, written by Mike Costa, covered the revival of Ironhide (which was killed off and treated as a big event early in Costa’s run) as well as dealing with several dangling plot threads from All Hail Megatron and Spotlight Metroplex. The extremely controversial Transformers: Drift was written by Shane McCarthy, which tells the stories of Drift’s past and how it defected to the Autobots.
In 2010, fans James Roberts and Nick Roche, having worked on various issues in the past and proving extremely popular among the fandom, created ‘Last Stand of the Wreckers’, which takes tells the tale of the Wreckers in space after the events of All Hail Megatron. Last Stand of the Wreckers proved extremely popular among the fans for being standalone whilst tying in to many questions left unanswered from the choppy jump throughout the Furman, McCarthy and Costa runs, and generally being a good story. It’s widely regarded as one of IDW’s best output, and LSOTW will later see several additional stories released as part of its trade paperbacks.
An odd venture was the two-issue Transformers: Infestation, released in 2011, which is part of IDW’s attempt at crossover, in which zombies from another of IDW’s title invaded several other franchises, one of them being the Transformers. Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, it surprisingly resolves the issue of the Dead Universe’s origin and introducing Galvatron to the ongoing’s main plot.
Also in 2011, Abnett and Lanning released the four-issue Heart of Darkness which tells the story as Galvatron encounters the monstrous entity D-Void living in the Dead Universe, though the series was widely panned by fans. Heart of Darkness would later tie in with the main Costa ongoing to set up the final ‘Chaos’ finale for Costa’s run. Chaos was co-written by Mike Costa and the ever-popular James Roberts, who also took up writing reins to write ‘Chaos Theory’, a widely popular two-parter that dissects Optimus and Megatron’s relationship throughout the series. While Costa’s run proved controversial, many aspects of his run will later be explored upon in future stories – including the Transformers making enemies of Earth’s humans and Bumblebee being an Autobot leader among some.
2010 and 2011 would mark the final Movie tie-in comics, and the emergence of John Barber, who is widely famous amongst the fandom for his fixation with fixing continuity problems. While he would graduate to being one of IDW’s main writers and general main editor, he starts of writing Transformers: Sector Seven, a five-part miniseries reconciling the conflicting origins of Sector Seven and Jetfire throughout the years. Barber would then write two prequels for the third movie, Transformers: Foundation and Transformers: Rising Storm. Foundation takes prior to Defiance on Cybertron, detailing the schism that would lead to the war and introducing movie players Sentinel Prime and Shockwave, whereas Rising Storm takes place between Nefarious and Dark of the Moon, fixing all the problems Furman has wrought and acting to bridge the various movie tie-in material together. While Rising Storm’s ending seemed to hint at a Reign-of-Starscream style adventure featuring non-show characters, no further material ever materialized. Barber also wrote the Dark of the Moon movie adaptation, as well as Convergence, a text story released with the adaptation which somehow manages to tie together all the continuity headaches throughout ROTF and DOTM by using some space bridge time travel and Soundwave.
James Roberts/John Barber era (2011-present)
Fresh off the ashes of Chaos, James Roberts and John Barber set out to write two branching ongoings. With ‘the Death of Optimus Prime’ as a one-shot to set things off, the setting is established and the cast is separated into two: a group of Autobots leaving Cybertron with Rodimus for wacky space opera and drama and the messy political situation on Cybertron thanks to a massive amount of civilian population returning there, and the Autobots have to deal with something they are unfamiliar with. James Roberts writes More than Meets the Eye, which follows Rodimus’ crew and proved extremely popular with fans, whereas John Barber writes Robots in Disguise, working with the cast left on Cybertron. Robots in Disguise would co-star Optimus Prime at times and reconcile several continuity problems throughout the series as a whole, whereas More than Meets the Eye would introduce numerous aspects of Transformers culture such as racism between how they are transformed and religion. As something of a sequel to Chaos Theory, some parts of More than Meets the Eye would tell the story of pre-war days, expanding the role and character of Optimus Prime and Megatron considerably. Both MTMTE and RID are met with generally good reception from fans, especially compared to the Costa run though several parts of RID weren't as well received.
2012 would see the first of a twelve-issue short digital comic, Autocracy, written by Flint Dille and Chris Metzen, which stars Orion Pax’s transformation into Optimus Prime set in the early days of war. It’s followed in 2013 by another twelve-issue digital comic, Monstrosity. It’s generally received lukewarm reception thanks to having inconsistent characterization with those seen in the main MTMTE and RID titles, as well as borrowing elements from the War for Cybertron games which doesn’t exactly fit neatly into the G1 continuity. Several new spotlights issues were released around this timeframe to act as tie-in comics to both new toys and the upcoming Dark Cybertron event. Orion Pax and Thundercracker both took place in the distant past, Bumblebee and the highly-popular Megatron took place during the Costa run and resolved some character inconsistencies in their characterization during that time, whereas Trailcutter and Hoist takes place inbetween MTMTE issues.
2012 saw a second Infestation event, with Cthulhu instead of zombies, though this time it happened, bizarrely, in the Hearts of Steel continuity instead of the mainstream one. It was written by Chuck Dixon.
Through 2013 and 2014, More than Meets the Eye and Robots in Disguise would cross over in the ‘Dark Cybertron Event, starring Shockwave and several returning villains and plot points, with the main plot revolving around the Metrotitans and their ability to warp through the past. Taking a buildup from both RID and the spotlight issues, Dark Cybertron was widely panned by fans for intruding on both the MTMTE and RID stories and its rather obnoxious attempt at forcing characters with toys to appear randomly in every issue.
After Dark Cybertron, an in-universe time gap happens and what is dubbed as ‘season two’ of the main titles, More than Meets the Eye and Robots in Disguise, continues with the same creative teams – though with several cast shuffles. A third title, Windblade, is released as a four-issue miniseries featuring the ‘fan-created character’, Windblade, written by Mairghread Scott. It proved surprisingly popular, and Windblade seems to be returning for a second miniseries in the near future, ‘Windblade Returns’. Unexpectedly, Shane McCarthy is also set to make a return in the upcoming ‘Drift: Age of Empires’ miniseries, giving Drift another solo adventure. Other upcoming side-stories produced after Dark Cybertron included Transformers: Primacy, the final part of the Autocracy/Monstrosity series, as well as Transformers: Punishment, a motion comic miniseries taking place during the timeskip between Dark Cybertron and season two.
Other material not connected to the main series produced during this time included a four-issue prequel to the Prime cartoon, written by Mike Johnson. There are several digital comics released throughout 2012-2013 done to attempt and bridge the Fall of Cybertron game and the Prime cartoon, though it eventually just focuses on the Dinobots as they deal with problems on Cybertron. These comics are namely: the six-part John Barber written Fall of Cybertron, as well as the four-part Rage of the Dinobots and the eight-part Beast Hunters, written by Mike Johnson and Mairghread Scott.
Also in 2012, Simon Furman launches ‘Regeneration One’ a bizarre venture set in the Marvel comics continuity that continues on from the final issue of Marvel’s original US run, ignoring the events of the UK and Generation 2 material… while re-introducing many of the same aspects from those series. It’s met with generally apathy from fans, and ran for twenty two issues before concluding.
Nice- Might I suggest including a like to that Underbase Mike Costa interview on the grounds it's "It's not that I'm shit, it's that a genius like me can't do anything but write shit for a franchise like this" statements from the man himself sum up his era better than any commentary could?
Yeah, probably need some elaboration on Shane and Costa's work while rereading this -- Furman's era got lambasted by me but the other three just get a general description. That ain't right, I need to lambast everybody.
I dunno the specific interview you mean -- damned if I'll listen to Mike Costa being interviewed -- but that does sound like something he would say and certainly colours his main problems perfectly.
Well worth a listen because, though he seems a perfectly nice man, he spends the whole interview digging his own grave, the interviewers don't try and trick him to lure him into a trap, there are several points where they're clearly taken aback by what he's coming out with.
Gotta love the insecurities over James Roberts as well, he expected people to like the Chaos issues they wrote together just because James' name was on it, not because James is any good. And he doesn't like flashback stories... what was Chaos Theory again?
The daft thing is, just about every point he makes could be used against him just as easily- So Transformers fans don't read comics and thus don't understand them?.... Well OK, that's a potential point (though it also assumes they know nothing about good storytelling generally), but it also applies to the people who liked his stuff. And so on.
There are literally hundreds of James Roberts podcast interviews out there it's well worth a Google he's always a good listen. I think for the Underbase he's gone through issue 6, the Annual and (with Milne) Shadowplay. IIRC Barber did that Livio issue where time goes back and forth on Wheelie's planet.