In 2013, Hasbro launched an online publicity stunt in preparation for the upcoming 30th anniversary of the Transformers franchise. The concept was simple: Hasbro would, through a series of online polls, allow Transformers fans to collectively create their own character. The poll results would generate this new character’s vital statistics: Autobot or Decepticon? What signature weapon does the character use in battle? What type of vehicle does the character transform into? When the polls ended and the results were determined, the fruits of the fandom’s labor would then be made canon: this fan-created character would be added to the cast of the IDW Transformers comic series, and even be made into a toy.
What has this unusual origin story got to do with celebrating women in comics? Well, as it happens, one of the attributes Hasbro allowed the fandom to vote on in this process of crowdsourced character creation was gender. This was a surprising choice at the time. Although Transformers are giant alien robots and therefore have no need to conform to human notions of gender, male-coded bots have been the norm in Transformers media for the entirety of its 30-year history, with female characters both vanishingly rare and often ill-serviced by storylines. (One particularly notorious example would be Arcee’s origin story in the comics. Don’t get me started on it. It’s awful.) But when given the opportunity to perhaps add another female character to Transformers canon, the fandom spoke, and it spoke loudly. The fan-built bot would be a woman; a sword-wielding lady samurai with the ability to transform into a jet plane.
Windblade first made her debut during the Dark Cybertron arc, a multi-issue crossover event between IDW’s two ongoing Transformers titles. With two full casts at work and a plot that had the fate of the universe at stake, she didn’t get to do much. Her first real chance to shine was the four-issue Transformers: Windblade miniseries, released spring of 2014. The book was groundbreaking: a story with a female protagonist, written by a woman and drawn by a woman. The powerhouse duo that brought Windblade to life, Mairghread Scott and Sarah Stone, comprised the first all-female creative team in Transformers history. Windblade has since proven popular enough to warrant a second miniseries, an appearance in the Combiner Hunters special, a central role in the upcoming third Transformers ongoing title (Till All are One, due out next year), and even an appearance in the currently airing Robots In Disguise cartoon.
Why do I love Windblade? There are many reasons. I love that she’s a character who would rather solve problems with words than with her sword. I love her relationships with the other characters: her friendships, her alliances, her rivalries. She seeks the truth and gives people the benefit of the doubt. She’s a peacemaker in a story about perpetual war. She shows forgiveness, and others frequently mistake her kindness for weakness but they are universally proven wrong. She is fearless in the face of external danger, but struggles with her very real and honest self-doubt. It’s easy to relate to Windblade, because haven’t we all been put in a position of having to do something important and feeling like we’re in over our heads?
But most of all, I love what Windblade represents. To me, her existence and her success are a sign that, even in a franchise that’s been as much of an “old boys club” as Transformers, female fans are being increasingly recognized, even welcome. We exist, we have a place at the table, and creators are becoming more and more willing to promote the presence of female characters. Within the past two years, the number of female characters to be introduced in Transformers has skyrocketed, a group that is interesting and diverse and growing all the time. Windblade has been a vanguard of this very welcome change. We still, unfortunately, live in a society that largely considers things like comic book superheroes and giant alien robots to be solely the domain of boys. But if Transformers can change its tune on gender parity this much, this quickly, if the fan base can be this influential in spurring that change, just imagine what we could do it elsewhere. Imagine it in your fandom. Imagine the day when you can open your favorite comic book and finally see yourself, truly and equally represented.
Earlier this year, Hasbro launched a second series of “fan-built” polls, this time to create a Combiner; that is, a group of robots who join together to form a single, colossal being. The resulting team consists of six brand-new characters, and all of them are women. Windblade was among the first to greet their debut in Combiner Hunters, a one-shot special whose all-female cast puts the low standards of the Bechdel Test to shame. The future is looking bright.