Warning: this article contains spoilers for Void Rivals #1!
Void Rivals was already destined to be one of the biggest comic book releases of 2023, as it's the latest collaboration between Oblivion Song creators Robert Kirkman and Lorenzo De Felici. But it turns out that the first issue of Void Rivals is hiding a truly massive twist. This series isn't a standalone story, but rather is part of a shared universe that includes the Transformers and G.I. Joe franchises. These two iconic Hasbro properties are making their way to Kirkman's Skybund Entertainment.
Together, Void Rivals, Transformers and G.I. Joe will make up the Energon Universe, which reboots the latter two properties for their new home. Running alongside Void Rivals will be a new, monthly Transformers comic from writer/artist Daniel Warren Johnson (Do a Powerbomb) and a line of character-focused G.I. Joe limited series. The first of these, Duke, is written by Joshua Williamson (Dark Crisis) and drawn by Tom Reilly (Wasp). The second, Cobra Commander, is written by Williamson and drawn by Andrea Milana (Impact Winter: Rook).
IGN was able to speak with Kirkman ahead of the release of Void Rivals #1 to learn more about how the new series establishes a bigger universe. Read on to learn more about this new era for Transformers and G.I. Joe.
Void Rivals #1 Preview Gallery
Creating the Energon Universe
The Transformers and G.I. Joe comic book lines have bounced around a number of homes over the decades, first starting out at Marvel in the '80s and moving to Dreamwave, Devil's Due and eventually IDW Publishing. Crossovers between the two properties are nothing new, though this is the first time both Transformers and G.I. Joe are being linked together from day one.
"We heard from Hasbro maybe about two years ago that they were thinking about opening up the Transformers and G.I. Joe license to us," Kirkman tells IGN. "I mean, I dove in feet first and couldn't have been more excited. I immediately was starting to put together the plans that ended up becoming the Energon Universe, trying to figure out new ways into these characters. The Energon Universe kind of strips things back to the beginning and it's going to kind of be a ground-floor exploration of these characters."
Kirkman reveals that the idea for Void Rivals sprang directly out of his plans for the Energon UNiverse and his desire to create an original concept that could work seamlessly alongside two iconic franchises.
"Void Rivals was, even down to the title, I wanted something that sounded like it could have been a cartoon and an action figure line in the '80s that would've been running alongside them. I wanted to try and come up with a concept, two warring alien races living on the edge of a black hole. That seems like it fits the era. It was all tailor made to be a part of this thing."
"I wanted something that sounded like it could have been a cartoon and an action figure line in the '80s that would've been running alongside them."
Kirkman continues, "I wanted to do something that was unexpected and new, and I think doing a book that was very much a new concept, a new world, new characters, the same way that Firepower and Oblivion Song and Die, Die, Die and all of my recent work has been. But as a fan, to be reading a comic and get to page 16 and a Transformer shows up, I thought that would be the coolest thing in the world for me as a reader if I were to see that in a comic. And so to actually pitch it to Hasbro and have them be really excited about the idea and to see it coming together and becoming real was just amazing."
How Void Rivals Connects to Transformers and G.I. Joe
Void Rivals doesn't initially seem like the foundation for a shared universe of iconic toy properties. The first issue follows Darak and Solila, two pilots from rival factions who crashland on a desolate planet and are forced to work together to survive. Only late in issue #1, when the two stumble across the hibernating Transformer Jetfire, does it become apparent that Void Rivals is a piece of a much bigger hole. That said, Kirkman teases that the scope of the series will soon grow much bigger.
"The scope definitely gets bigger with time, but those two characters are the main focus of the series," Kirkman says. "Those are the main characters. We'll be following them on their adventure, hoping that they get back to the Sacred Ring and we'll learn more about their civilization on the way. There's all kinds of adventure and cool stuff that's going to happen in that journey. But I think the first issue is a really good example."
Kirkman adds, "The Jetfire interlude is a really cool element that makes sense inside the story and adds to that story. And it continues that narrative, but it doesn't disrupt that narrative. It's not like it's suddenly a Transformers book. This is still very much Void Rivals. It's still focusing on these characters and their struggles and that will continue. But now that we've shown you that this takes place in the same universe as the Transformers, there's a plethora of alien races and different characters that exist in the Transformers universe out in space that these boy rivals characters will be interacting with."
Both Transformers and G.I. Joe are properties built around neverending conflicts between two opposing sides. Transformers is about the millennia-long war between the Autobots and Decepticons. G.I. Joe is locked in an ever-escalating battle with Cobra. In that sense, Void Rivals and its emphasis on the warring factions of the Sacred Ring is no different. Conflict between opposing sides is the common thread tying together the Energon Universe.
"I think that was kind of the magic simplicity of those concepts," Kirkman says. "I think that if you look at the similarities between Transformers and GI Joe, it's Autobots versus the Deceptions and G.I. Joe versus Cobra. But those concepts couldn't be more different. There's a lot of originality and a lot of room to explore within that opposing force dynamic. And so I think similarly you'll see that Void Rival's about the struggles between the Andorians and the Sertonians. It's going to be a completely different concept with a completely different narrative built around that rough skeleton."
What's Next for the Energon Universe?
In addition towriting Void Rivals, Kirkman is serving as the showrunner of sorts for the larger Energon Universe, supervising the upcoming Transformers and G.I. Joe books and ensuring everything fits together in a larger puzzle. Transformers launches in October 2023, followed by Duke in December 2023 and Cobra Commander in January 2024.
"Daniel and Josh are both extremely passionate about Transformers in G.I. Joe in the same way that I am," Kirkman says. "And so being able to meet with them and geek out about these characters was, yeah, it was absolutely essential. You want somebody who has an affinity for these characters, who respects these characters, who is willing to put in the time to get these characters right."
Kirkman continues, "That was the most important element that we were looking for. But it also helps that Daniel and Josh have an amazing track record and they have an amazing track record with Skybound. So, we know everything that they're capable of doing and we know all the ins and outs of how they work and what they love doing. And so there's a familiarity and a comfort to working with them that is making this a very seamless launch."
We were curious why Skybound is opting to launch the rebooted G.I. Joe franchise as a line of character-focused miniseries rather than a single, ongoing series as with Transformers. Kirkman notes that it's really about the desire to shine a spotlight on a handful of characters before delving headlong into a franchise notable for its massive cast of heroes and villains.
"I think that G.I. Joe's appeal is that it's the best rogues gallery," Kirkman says. "You can talk about Batman or Spider-Man having the best rogues gallery. G.I. Joe has the best rogues gallery. G.I. Joe has about, I don't know, 50 to 100 characters that could lead their own series that have their own interesting backstories. And everything about them could make them a definitive lead of a series that you would be infinitely engaged with. It's dangerous to start a series where it's like, okay, here are these 400 amazing characters that are going to fight these other 400 amazing characters. And so we're trying to pare things down as small as possible as we get into it and ramp into G.I. Joe in a way that you see the value and how great these characters are the way that we do."
"You can talk about Batman or Spider-Man having the best rogues gallery. G.I. Joe has the best rogues gallery."
Kirkman continues, "We want readers to get to know Duke and know everything that makes him tick and see the evolution of this soldier who ends up leading G.I. Joe. I guess I don't need to bury the lede as we start. G.I. Joe doesn't exist in the Energon Universe, so we're actually going to get to see the formation of Cobra and the formation of G.I. Joe and build to an event that is the formation of the G.I. Joe team and build to the event that is the formation of Cobra. And so you're going to kind of get to see these characters from the ground up and have a really individual experience so that when you start seeing them interact in a team, every individual character has something special about them and something exciting about them. You'll have gone on a journey with them, so that's kind of our approach."
Void Rivals #1 is available in comic shops and digital storefronts now.
The Energon Universe reveal comes just days after Transformers: Rise of the Beasts hit theaters and revealed that the Transformers and G.I. Joe franchsies are also crossing over in live-action. Learn more in our full breakdown of Rise of the Beasts' ending. You can also find out how to stream every Transformers movie online.
Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.