Spoiler warning: This story is going to spoil elements of the first issue of Image Comics’ new Void Rivals series, in stores today. Don’t read on if you want to remain unspoiled. No, really.
The rumors, it turns out, are true: the first issue of Void Rivals is — to use a well-worn phrase — more than meets the eye, with what was initially announced as “the launch of AN ALL-NEW SHARED UNIVERSE and a SURPRISE you won't see coming” revealing itself to be the beginning of the Energon Universe - a new era for Transformers and G.I. Joe comics.
Ever since IDW announced that it was losing the license to Transformers and G.I. Joe at the end of 2022, fans of both franchises have wondered which comics publisher would be next to pick up the iconic toy franchises; Robert Kirkman’s Skybound had been rumored to be in the mix for some months, although the recent announcement of ROM: Spaceknight and Micronauts reprints had some of us wondering if Marvel had won the rights. It turns out, the answer was right in front of our noses all along — Void Rivals was announced back in February this year — but none of us had realized it just yet.
The connective tissue comes courtesy of an unexpected cameo in the issue by Jetfire, of all robots, who had also crashlanded on the same planetoid as the two protagonists of the series. As it turns out, what looks at first like a surprise cameo is, instead, some foreshadowing of what's to come for the iconic robots in disguise. Think of it as plot reveal in disguise, as it were.
Let’s go to the original announcement of Void Rivals back in February, and specifically a quote from Kirkman that appeared therein: “With every project I do, I’m always trying to challenge myself," he said. "One thing I’ve always loved doing is starting small with a story and expanding the depth, scope and stakes as we progress."
“Starting small with a story and expanding the depth, scope and stakes” feels like the perfect description for what Skybound and Hasbro are doing with the Energon Universe. For the majority of its first issue, Void Rivals is solely the story of Darak and Solila, two aliens from opposing factions in a war who have crash-landed on a planet and are forced to work together to try to survive. It is, for the most part, an intimate story that suddenly gains a whole new element with the discovery of Jetfire and the establishing the Transformers' presence in this universe... although that new element only makes up five pages of the 25-page story from the first issue.
Expanding the depth with Transformers
What’s particularly fascinating about this is that, by introducing (re-introducing?) the Transformers in a story that is explicitly not a Transformers story, Kirkman and Void Rivals artist Lorenzo De Felici have significantly expanded the mythology of the Energon Universe already. Audiences for any Transfotmers story have already been primed — no pun intended — to expect a Transformers story to center around two planets: Cybertron, the home planet of the Transformers, and Earth, where the war moves after the Transformers crashland on it... but now there’s an entirely new intergalactic war to consider between the Zertonians and the Argorrians, as well - an entirely separate (or so it seems right now, at least) conflict that might interact the larger Transformers story at any given point in the future, in ways that no-one can predict.
It’s an exciting wild card and a statement of intent that, whatever is coming next for the Transformers, and for G.I. Joe, it’s unlikely to be the same thing fans have seen before.
Speaking of statements of intent, there’s something to be said for launching whatever the Energon Universe is going to be in a comic wherein the Transformers are, for all intents and purposes, guest-stars. The official announcement of the Energon Universe explicitly states that the universe will feature "both the characters and franchises you know and love, along with entirely new concepts developed in partnership by Hasbro and Skybound," but launching with Void Rivals #1 feels as if it's backing up the hype in a particularly noteworthy way: here's the first taste, and it's very intentionally keeping any nostalgic appeal to a minimum while placing the new elements in the foreground.
That those "entirely new concepts" happen to be co-created by the man behind the wildly successful Walking Dead franchise might be the icing on the cake, but it's some pretty exciting icing for a lot of people, I suspect.
Expanding the scope of Transformers?
Of course, this isn’t Kirkman’s first contact with the Transformers: he was one of a group of writers invited to be part of a Transformers writer’s room in 2015, centering around the property as a movie entity. The group worked on backstory for Transformers: The Last Knight and the room reportedly led to the creation of the 2019 Bumblebee movie… so could it be possible that Void Rivals and everything that follows also got its start there…? And if so, should we consider everything from the Energon Universe to be fair game for future movie development…?
Void Rivals #1 is, ultimately, a very successful teaser for what's to come that raises all manner of questions about the future of the Transformers and G.I. Joe franchises: What is going to happen to Darak and Solila? (I'm getting a Saga feeling from their interaction, I admit.) What made Jetfire crash onto the planetoid, and is it related to the same accident that sends Optimus Prime et al to Earth in Daniel Warren Johnson's upcoming Transformers series? Where is G.I. Joe in all of this? (Let’s note that the solicitation for Void Rivals #3 this August hints at some new characters being introduced…) And, outside of the story being told, what's next for each of these properties and the larger Energon Universe as a whole? The sky's the limit, it appears... and that's probably very much the reaction Skybound and Hasbro were hoping for.
Void Rivals #1 is available now.
Read more about Marvel’s upcoming ROM: Spaceknight and Micronauts omnibus releases — and wonder, like we are, whether Marvel only has reprint rights to the characters and if they’re going to be part of the Void Rivals universe…