October 19, 2018
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Portland author pens official ‘Transformers’ back story

Seth Koenig | BDN
Seth Koenig | BDN
Portland author Alex Irvine has written licensed stories about the likes of Batman and Iron Man. His latest books represent the official backstory to the popular Transformers franchise.

PORTLAND, Maine — Almost any child of the 1980s can tell you what happened after the Autobots and Decepticons crash-landed on Earth.

The living alien robots reprogrammed themselves to be able to transform into local vehicles — cars, trucks and planes, etc. — and set conflicting goals of heroism and mass destruction, respectively.

Transformers. They’re more than meets the eye, as the old cartoon slogan goes, and they’re also a contemporary Hollywood cash cow. The warring robots have been given renewed life, like so many 1980s cultural sensations, in the form of big budget movies, video games and toys.

But what happened in the Transformers storyline before they crashed on Earth?

Portland author Alex Irvine — the man handpicked to write the official pre-history of the franchise — has the answer.

Irvine’s latest book, “ Transformers: Exiles” was released Tuesday, the sequel to “ Transformers: Exodus,” which was a companion book to a comic and video game chronicling the pre-Earth landing war over the robots’ home planet of Cybertron.

“I’m basically writing Transformers mythology,” Irvine said. “I’m going back millions of years before they came to Earth.”

Irvine — a veteran writer whose credits include licensed works on iconic characters such as Iron Man and Batman — was given the responsibility of tackling the Transformers back story as toymaker and license owner Hasbro Inc. sought to re-establish the multimedia franchise on a firm foundational story.

Irvine is one of the special guests at the first Coast City Comicon next month, where he’ll talk about the late science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, about whom Irvine once wrote his master’s thesis.

Now, though, Irvine remains in the afterglow of the release of “Transformers: Exiles.”

“Hasbro has been trying to smooth out the continuity issues in the Transformers timeline,” Irvine said.

But it hasn’t been easy. Fans who grew up watching the Transformers cartoon are protective of their favorite robots and whichever of a handful of back stories they liked best as the franchise got its footing three decades ago.

“You want to be respectful of the passion the fans have for it,” Irvine said. “You really want to be aware of what’s there and not step on it, but at the same time, people don’t want the same story over and over again.”

The Transformers books are the latest tasks for a Portland writer who has what many people would consider a dream job.

Superheroes he grew up reading about in comics or watching in cartoons he now writes stories for, sometimes in novel form and sometimes for illustrated comics. And he’s frequently in the thick of Hollywood’s efforts as well, as he’s due to write the novel version of the upcoming movie about the cult comic classic The Adventures of Tintin.

“If you go all the way back, comics are what got me interested in writing to begin with,” he said. “When I was a little kid, I made up a comic called ‘Super Dude’ with my friend Kevin.”

Now as an adult, he has had a hand in molding costumed characters such as Daredevil and the aforementioned Iron Man.

Those stories he wished had been told about his favorite superheroes? He writes them.

“There was an angle in the Iron Man story that hadn’t been told the way I wanted it to be told,” Irvine admitted, noting that Iron Man alter ego Tony Stark has a bad ticker kept beating by an accessory of his steel super suit.

“If this is a guy who can build himself a suit that can fly at supersonic speeds and weighs less than 200 pounds — or in the case of the Mark V [suit], can fit in a suitcase — why can’t he build himself a new heart?” Irvine pondered.

So the Portland author and former University of Maine professor wrote his way down that story line in his “ Iron Man: The Rapture” comic miniseries.

What’s next after Tintin? Irvine said he has ideas he’s keeping close to the vest for now. But when those pieces hit the online marketplaces and bookstore shelves, rest assured, they’ll likely make children of the 1980s wish they could have Irvine’s job.

Coast City Comicon will run Nov. 11-13, with events scheduled largely at the Eastland Park Hotel and SPACE Gallery.

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