Focus on Transformers / Back to the Future

In my next deep dive into my back catalogue, I delve into the development of a mash up that brought together two childhood obsessions.

Focus on Transformers / Back to the Future

SPOILER WARNING: This article talks about the development of Transformers / Back to the Future by yours truly and Juan Samu. If you’ve not read it there will be spoilers in some of the pitch documentation! You have been warned!

When I was a kid I was nuts about Transformers. The toys1. The comics2. The TV show. Stan Bush’s The Touch. This love of all things Cybertronian has stayed with me, so I was beside myself with excitement when I received the following email from David Mariotte at IDW:

“Chase [Marotz] and I wanted to let you know about a new TF project (well, in part) that's coming down the pipeline that we have you on the short list to pitch on.”

I was also intrigued. What did David mean, ‘in part’?

All became clear when I opened the attachment...

I mean… wow. What an assignment! Not only was I getting a chance to write Transformers, but crossing over with one of the best films ever made?! There was even going to be a toy!

Talk about heavy!

This was 30th September 2019. I had only just shown Back to the Future to my daughters so it was fresh in my mind and was about to jump on a plane to New York Comic Con which was the perfect opportunity to rewatch parts two and three.3

I ruminated the pitch over the course of the con, and actually wrote it on the plane home, sending it in on October 9th.

Here it is:

Ten days later I received word. IDW, Hasbro and Universal liked my pitch but the two licensors had sent some last-minute changes to the brief, providing a basic framework for the story that I’d never seen before:

The Autobots and Decepticons wake up on Earth in 1984, as in the classic G-1 cartoon or comic book. They hide in plain sight, as vehicles… and in 1985, a Decepticon (maybe Ravage, or another cassette) spots Marty leaving Hill Valley in the Time Machine—then returning, and watches Doc take the Time Machine back to his lab.

Realizing the value of a Time Machine (the Decepticons could go back in time and win the war before it starts), the cassette follows Doc for a few days, figuring out what he’s seeing and doing. But before the Decepticon acts, Doc travels to 2015—with the Decepticon stowing away. The Decepticon manages to get a transmission to Megatron before he goes.

There in 2015, Doc modifies the Time Machine with Mr Fusion and flight capabilities, and the Decepticon steals the Time Machine—unbeknownst to Doc—and travels back to 1985 to take the Time Machine to Megatron.

But the Autobots intercede (having intercepted the Decepticon’s earlier communication), and an Autobot scientist—who’s usually stayed hidden in the Ark—gets ahold of the Flux Capacitor and is forced to trans-scan and take the place of the Time Machine.

Marty gets caught in the adventure as he investigates the giant-robot fight at Doc’s lab, and he winds up with the Autobot, with the Flux Capacitor, and with Decepticons chasing him as he looks for Doc who’s somewhere in time, unwittingly trapped in 2015!

So, it was back to the drawing board… or was it? I replied, asking if I could incorporate elements from my original pitch, so we didn’t lose everything. I was told yes, but I was still having trouble reconciling my original pitch, the BTTF movies and the framework I’d been given.

On 26th November, 2019, I wrote back offering two solutions:


We start the comic retelling the end of Back to the Future as suggested with Ravage (or another of the cassettes) watching the action and stowing onboard the DeLorean. We see Marty going to sleep (as in the film) but when he wakes he finds himself in a 1985 ruled by the Deceptions, all the Back to the Future characters working in an Energon plant as slave labour. This isn’t right. He can still remember his old life. What has happened?

There’s a scuffle at the camp, Biff trying to get the McFlys in trouble and Marty ends up on the run, tracked by Lazerbeak. But the flying Deception is knocked out of the sky by the sudden appearance of the Delorean which skids to a halt. Marty thinks its Doc, but the car transforms into our Autobot scientist.

Great Scott, what is going on?

Well, what has happened is that when Ravage stole the Delorean in the future he didn’t go back to 1985 in the pitch but went back to PREHISTORIC Earth to wake the Deceptions early so they could conquer Earth before humans evolved. In the future, the ORIGINAL Delorean is under lock and key in a Deception so the autobot scientist was sent in to transcan it so he can put time back on course. And for that they need Marty for some reason. Perhaps to rescue Doc who has in this new timeline is working WITH the Deceptions. They need Marty to get through to him, to remind him who he is. Or perhaps the Deceptions of 2015 have him locked up as he’s the only other person who knows the timeline isn’t right. The scientist and Marty have to break into the 2015 Deception headquarters to rescue him.

Either way, they break him out or help him recover his mind, and then head back to Prehistoric Earth to stop Ravage waking the Deceptions. They then push the Delorean back to the future to reunite it with ‘our’ Doc (without him knowing what happened). Time is reset. Everything is back to normal.

The only snag is that we’re left with two versions of Marty, unless the Marty of the alternate reality sacrifices himself somehow to stop Ravage… only to wake up in his bed to live the experiences of Back to the Future 2, thinking everything was a weird messed up dream that we know really happened, as does the Autobot scientist who watches Doc come back and pick him and Jennifer as seen at the end of the first film.

That way we have a nice bookend with the events of the movie being watched secretly by Transformers, Ravage at the beginning and our scientist at the end (and maybe even the little hoverboard autobot if I can work him in - “Flux, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship etc etc.”

It gets a little wooly at the end when time is put back together and the two Marty’s combine (something I still don’t like but can’t work out a way to tie what they’ve asked for into pre-existing BTTF continuity, but maybe I can find a way to smooth that out. )

Plus at the moment its lost that essential BTTF moment of someone making a mistake and putting it right, which my original pitch had, unless we can take something big from that, which leads us to...


We go back to my original idea of Flux the scientist travelling back from the Future to witness the first time travel experiment because he’s a big fan of Doc Brown.

It’s his appearance in 1985 that attracts Ravage kicking off the entire series of events as he spots Ravage stowing onboard. He follows Doc to 2015 but can’t stop Ravage from stealing the DeLorean and heading back to Prehistoric Earth to put the above course of events into action, maybe with the added problem that Megatron destroys all the Autobots when he is woken.

With the future changed, Flux (now the last Autobot in history) has to team up with Marty to put things right, correcting his mistake. The action would largely follow a similar plan to Solution One as they head back to prehistoric Earth to stop Ravage etc etc.

It all depends if Universal will let us get away with that change to the approved pitch with Flux starting the story being a version of the Delorean…

What do you think? Neither is fully there yet but if you think any of that will work, I can try to expand it into a full pitch.

One thing is for certain… time travel can and will fry your brain!

Three days later, after a great deal of back and forth with the editors, I submitted my second pitch, one that brought in some new timey-wimey elements including characters from the Transformers Animated Movie, namely Rodimus Prime! Someone fire up the Stan Bush!

More notes followed, including some issues that had arisen as elements of what I was pitching were similar to other comics happening in the Transformers universe. So, a third version was required, submitted 9th December surrounded by my newly Decked Halls. By this point, the DeLorean had a new name - Gigawatt - and we thought it would be cool to base the hoverboard on a pre-existing Transformer, Grindor:

Still with me? I realise that was a lot, but it’s a good indication of the back and forth that can happen before an idea is greenlit, which in this case happened on 17th January 2020, the only other note being to give our new hoverboard character an original name. I signed the contract and was given 14th February as my deadline for issue one! Valentine’s Day!

As a special treat for reading all that, thanks to the generosity of my collaborator on the series, here are some of Juan Samu’s initial designs for Transformers / Back to the Future.

First up, is his original design for Flux / Gigawatt…

…as well as character designs for the battle-weary Rodimus Prime and Bumblebee (with metal eye-patch!)

Poor things. They’ve really been through the mill, unlike Megatron who is positively triumphant!

Next comes Marty and his trusty hoverboard who went through so many name-changes in the development process! First, Hover (not the most original), Skates, Grindor and eventually Skillz!

Finally, here are the original sketch and the inks for one of the big reveals for issue 3 (I told you there would be spoilers) — the Town Square Titan, Watchtower!

Did I say that was the last image? Okay, I lied, because I just love Juan’s original concept for Biff in his Decepticon power suit! Hello? McFly?

Transformers / Back to the Future was a joy to work on and I’m really sad it’s no longer in print, IDW having now lost the Transformers licence. I still see it knocking around in bookshops every now and then, so if you see it, grab it before it’s gone!

And if you do ever get chance to read our bonkers little mash-up, let me know what you think in the comments!

  1. My first Transformer was the Generation One Optimus Prime. In the UK back then we had a store called Argos. I’m not sure if it was in the States, but you ordered your product from a catalogue, jotting down the product’s number and gave it to a member of staff. After paying you would wait at the end of a conveyor belt where you’d see what you’d purchase slowly trundle towards you on a conveyor belt. I remember seeing Prime’s box in the distance - what seemed like miles away - getting nearer and nearer and nearer. The anticipation was intense, making it all the more exciting when he was finally in my hands.

  2. Especially Marvel UK’s Transformers which had a host of stories that were original to the weekly comic as they would have soon run out of issues if they only reprinted the US run. Some of those stories, slot in between the US issues, remain my favourites to this very day. Plus they introduced one of my favourite Marvel characters - Death’s Head.

  3. There’s a lot of discussion about which of the sequels is better. For me, and I know some people find this sacrilege, I always prefer part three. Yes, it’s not as batsh*t crazy as part 2, but in a lot of ways, it’s more faithful to the original. It’s a bit of a comfort watch for me.