Remixing the Robotech Saga

Writer Brenden Fletcher discusses Robotech's place in remix culture and how that influences his new comic.

Robotech Remix's Lead Character Dana Sterling

For anyone fearing that the new Robotech: Remix comic will be headed up by a new creative team, don’t worry. A hardcore fan is at the helm. Writer Brenden Fletcher, known for his work in comics such as Gotham Academy, Batgirl, Isola, and Motorcrush loves Robotech.

Not just the Macross Saga like many more casual fans. He loves anything and everything to do with the franchise, including the various Japanese series that spun out of Macross and the original versions of the three anime that made up Robotech. Even thought Fletcher is a big fan that doesn’t mean he’s sticking too close to what we’ve seen before. Robotech: Remix will be making big changes to the Robotech franchise that comes in the wake of recent events in the comic. The biggest being that Dana Sterling, the lead character of least popular entry in the franchise, The Masters Saga, is now stranded in the past with characters from the popular Macross Saga. We have an exclusive look at the line-up of the new cast here!

With Robotech: Remix being announced at San Diego Comic-Con we sat down for an in-depth chat with Fletcher about his history as a Robotech fan, his feelings about Dana’s history, remix culture, and what’s in store for the comic as a whole. 

Q: So where to begin?

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Here’s a good place to start. I was never in love with Dana Sterling as a character. I don’t know a whole lot of people who were. I think we all saw that she had potential, if for no other reason than she was in the Robotech story, a child of two very important heroes that I think we all loved from the Macross arc.

Any Robotech fans are probably all really in love with the Macross saga. If you’re a creative and you get an offer to do a Robotech thing, you probably want to play in the Macross sandbox. So when you’re handed a thing and the place you have to pick up the story is more of the Masters Saga or Southern Cross era, it’s maybe a little disappointing. I don’t know that anyone wants to envision a part of the story that has anything to do with the Logan fighter. Did anyone like that mecha?

Q: The mecha were not the strong point of Southern Cross/Masters.

I don’t mind the Ajax actually. I thought the Ajax was always a little cool. I was so-so on the Hover Tank until I got the Matchbox toy for Christmas. That thing was amazing. Carl, my best buddy who does the A cover for the first issue of Robotech: Remix, he got the Hover Tank first. I loved that thing. I would go over to his house just to play with that Hover Tank. I got the non-transforming, weird, hybrid VF1S.

Anyways, so Dana would not have been my first choice as a younger person to tell a story about. Now as an older Robotech fan I see the value in digging into the meaty potential material that was left on the table with Dana Sterling. Her past, her future, her emotional state. Even in the original Southern Cross version of the character, Jeanne Fránçaix, there’s a lot of questions around why this young woman is so boy crazy. Why that’s her focus over anything else in Southern Cross. There’s at least a little bit of context behind that in the Master’s Saga. That’s something that I really want to dig into in my arc in my story for this comic.

What is the cause of being in that place in your life? What can lead someone to want to feel close to people, but then be desperately afraid of being close to people? I think we all know what the answer is with Dana. It’s that her parents left her on Earth at ten years of age, seemingly never to return. I’m sure Rolf Emerson and uncles Rico, Bron and Konda did their best to bring her and Bowie up but I mean those two kids are messed up. They’re both in need. You watch the Masters Saga and these are both kids in really weird places in their lives. Neither of them are necessarily happy. Neither of them are happy at all. Bowie is not comfortable being a part of this military machine at all. They’re both longing for something else. I think in the context of Robotech you can take that back in their psychology to being unhappy as a result of not getting to properly reach adulthood with their parents. Knowing that their parents are off doing something else that was seemingly more important than them.

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In the Titan series Simon [Furman’s] done a great job of crafting this thing that has the bones of Macross, but brings this most important character back inside of it. During Simon’s story when Dana comes out of hibernation I would guess she’s about 30 years of age. She comes into a world just before she would have been born.

read more: The Robotech Comics Are Making Dana The Star

In my story, and I won’t spoil the end of Simon’s story, in my story, she’s still there. Ten years later. Max and Miriya never got together. Dana’s never been born. Things seem okay. So what’s the point of Dana? Where does she belong? Did she ever matter to her parents? They just left her. I mean we know as human beings; of course she mattered to her parents. [When] they left her behind, in their minds, it was to protect her.

Dana carries this with her. Dana, now a 40 year old woman living in her own past where the only version of her is this middle aged version. It is a story about her own broken nostalgia. The way that we could almost have nostalgia for the Robotech that we grew up with. Looking back on these stories that we enjoyed as kids, she’s looking back at a time where she was happy as a child, but knowing what’s about to happen is the moment that ruined her life.

And she might have to experience that all over again.

In this case her parents aren’t even a couple, so what is the point of it all? What was the point of her saving the universe, coming back in time and saving maybe this universe? Or maybe every timeline? She doesn’t know yet. What was the point of her existence [if this] doesn’t really matter? If this timeline can continue forward without her. What part does Dana Sterling play in the universe, and meta texturally, in the story of Robotech?

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So many people with Robotech say, “You can just skip that second part. Who needs it?”

To the title, Robotech: Remix, what point does a character originating from Southern Cross have to do in amongst other characters originating in another show called Macross?

You’re taking somebody who wasn’t supposed to be there and dropping them in.

For the most part, in the way that Robotech was assembled from three series back in the early ’80s, there were very few instances of footage from one series being edited into the other. There were some shots of the Masters being edited into Macross to help tell the Robotech story. There are very few instances where we are seeing that mash up for real happening.

It’s interesting in the original show that the Masters Saga is the one that suffers the most from having to be welded next to Macross because they have to change the most to make it work. 

I love people talking about re-imagining what Southern Cross could have been. Not to say, I think they did an amazing job with it to turn it into the Masters. It actually gives the child of Max and Miriya more depth. I mean more depth than she had as Komilia in spin off Macross stuff. It’s so interesting to see people imagine what it would have been like if Carl Macek had decided to make Lana (Nova in Robotech) the “Dana Sterling” character because her temperament is a little more like Komilia from Macross. Her hair color is the same as Komilia. It seemed like that would have been the natural fit, but the decision to make Jeanne be the child of the Sterling’s, to turn her into Dana, is a really interesting one. It brings us to where we are today and it gives me so many gifts for the series that I’m doing now.

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read more: Things You Didn’t Know About The Creation of Robotech

You’re reading between the lines for both The Masters Saga and Southern Cross?

I’m looking at both. I’m looking at Masters, but I’m also looking at Southern Cross. I’m now working in a space where there are no limits to the way a character can exist. Simon rewrote those rules through the series he did with Brian Wood and this “Event Horizon” thing. All bets are off now. This is the world that I get to play in.

Robotech Remix's Dana Sterling

What was that like for you when you were first handed the idea of doing this comic? Did you know all these things were going to happen?

No, no, no. When (former Titan Comics Senior Brand Manager) Chris Thompson invited me to go out for coffee for him, I suspected this was wanting to talk to me about Robotech. I sat down with him and I said, “All cards on the table, I’m only interested in working on my own IP right now. I’ve got a lot on my plate. I am a huge Robotech fan. Massive Macross fan. I think they’re perfect as they are and I appreciate what you guys are doing with the comic, but I can’t imagine that there’s anything that I want to do with it creatively that’s going to be enough to take me away from my own things that I’m building.”

Then he told me what Brian and Simon were doing with their series and what “Event Horizon” would actually be and what that could mean for what I could do into the future, and I think I might have used a few swear words. I hung my head and I said, “It’s too cool and it feels like it would probably be the most fun thing I could ever work on.” Then I asked him a question about characters that I could use and the way I could use them, and he said, “Yeah, no limits man.” I just about lost it. I did leave the meeting saying, “Let me think about it. Let me think about it.” It went on to be a little bit of a negotiation, but my mind was reeling. 

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I think everything that Simon and the guys have put together is fantastic. Very humbled and very nervous to be filling their giant shoes with this. I don’t think I can. I can do something fun with a little bit of a different flavor. I think that was why Chris had asked me to take it over. He knew I was a big fan. It’s why it’s being relaunched I think because the tone’s different.

Robotech Remix Interior Art

In what way?

Well you can see just from the approach to the art and the artists that I’m bringing in. It’s definitely got a more anime flavor to it. If you’ve read any of my other work, it is not as straightforward and head down serious as the harder sci-fi military approach that Simon and Brian had used. My tone varies. I like to be able to shift over to that when it’s appropriate. The stuff that attracted me to Robotech to begin with is the soap opera stuff. Slice of life stuff, the love triangles, is why I was in it. I mean I love the cool transforming robots, but the love triangle was what sold it to me. That’s where I am with this, not to say that there is a love triangle.

read more: How Robotech Was Ahead of its Time With Representation

I think Macross as an ongoing franchise has really cornered the market in making sure that every iteration, every sequel has one very powerful love triangle. To the extent that the last series was called Delta and has the symbol of a triangle and there are songs called “Triangular.” I love that, I think it’s great. I don’t think that should form the core of what a great Robotech story is but I think the interpersonal relationships are integral and they need to be front lined, for me, to feel invested. So I think we’ve got a great sci-fi military set up. What I want to do is take that and deliver you the interpersonal stuff that will break your heart within the sci-fi military set up that I’ve been handed.

I think I can kind of spoil a little bit here. I think your readers can put together just from looking at the covers what this is. We’ve got middle aged Dana reliving her past, in a situation where she doesn’t exist as the child that should be there. Her parents have never gotten together. This is, to be a little crude and break it down to its barest elements; it’s Back to the Future with Dana trying to get Max and Miriya together so that she can feel like she has a place in this universe.

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Dana and Bowie in the Robotech Comic

We’ve already seen a little bit of that in the back up stories. Is the purpose of those back stories to set up things for your run? Does it take place before that run?

Yes, it takes place before the run and there are some elements to the “Curtain Call” story that seem innocuous that are actually critical to larger reveals that will happen in maybe my third arc of the story. Down the road. Minmei is one of those. What happened to Minmei. If you’re reading “Curtain Call” in the back of the “Event Horizon” stories, you’ll note that she is no longer alive and part of what’s shocking in that story is that she has seemingly returned, but in the form of a hologram during a concert. But, is that just a recording? What’s the deal with that? If this isn’t Minmei, well who’s doing this and why? What’s the purpose?

Not to say that all of that will be resolved in the last “Curtain Call” installment, but you’ll certainly get a clue as to who is behind it, but why is another matter. I think they are a bunch of clues about why as well.

So then the title Robotech: Remix itself, talk a little bit about that. How does that play in? I’ve noticed even on the covers that we’ve seen, there’s a little bit of vapor wavy look to them.

At its core for me, Robotech is one of the first artifacts of remix culture in greater pop culture. I mean it might not be, it’s a corporate entity. It’s a thing that was done to meet a demand. Not an audience demand, but a business demand, but being able to get a program into syndication in the early ’80s. Hitting an episode number and just piling stories on to another story just to get a certain number. I think it’s unprecedented, incredible. I think that remix art has a place in the world above and beyond the artistic bones that we’re used to creating as a being, as a living, breathing thing. I think that I want to honor that with this series. 

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I think again that Simon and Brian Wood have provided me a great context to do that. Robotech is, to me, this great work of early remix culture in a way. Opening all these other doors that Simon’s opened, it’s taking this to the ‘nth level here. So I get to actually make a comment within the narrative and in another textural way about what that means to the characters to coexist in places that they suspect they shouldn’t. Maybe that they are better for, or greater, or changed in a profound enough way to find value in that coexistence. Then the meta textural way for us to understand how and why these things happened in media in the eighties and how we can talk about it now in a way that makes sense and enhances those things that we loved from the past and seeing them in new ways in the present and into the future.

I’m a big fan of all this stuff. I think that there are smarter people who can talk about it academically, but what I can do is give you a little bit of commentary, food for thought, within the new narrative that I can present. Hopefully if you’re taking that into account when reading this story. I’ll let you look to the future of the overall Robotech narrative through a different lens. 

Where can it go as a comic? Where can it go outside of the comic once you understand it in this context? Once you understand that Dana Sterling can live through the Masters Saga, live through the New Generation, rediscover her parents and her other sibling born in space, Maia Sterling, then there’s the Shadow Chronicles. A bunch of other stuff happens and she has to go back in time and relive some of it without her, but also understand that there are other timelines, other universes, other worlds. What does that mean to her? What does that mean to the other characters? What does that mean to the future of Robotech as a brand?

read more: The Robotech/Macross License Has Been Extended

All these different things around them, they could be a part of, they all could have some impact.

What does that mean for us as creators? Or even fans? What do you want to see then as a fan? I know what I want to see. I’m going to try to put that in the story.

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Can you give us a little bit of an idea of what that might be?

What can I say? I may have already said too much.

The third cover for the Robotech: Remix comic.

That’s fine. What I find interesting about what you’re saying and about Dana re-experiencing her life and I’m sure this is intentional because of how deep you’ve done this. You literally having her experience deja vu all the time in reference of course to the Southern Cross opening theme. Was that intentional?

Again, it’s much like Robotech, experiencing her life again, but not the exact same way. It is changed, it is different. It’s interesting to me that you say she lived through all of that, went back through time and she’s still having issues with her parents. She hasn’t dealt with all of this stuff. Exploring that would be something I’m very interested to see. Yes. That is the crux of this thing.

In a way are you, because it could have been very easy in another version of this comic to just tell the Masters Saga and do it “better.” Have it be more connected. Not having the weird boy crazy stuff. Whatever else. Now you’re telling a story and being able to comment on it without changing it either. Was that important for you to do?

Yeah. I think honoring what Simon and Brian have all labored over for these years is important to me. I feel like when I’m picking up the baton I don’t want to say no to any of the choices that they made coming in. I want to put my best foot forward from that point that they left behind. I feel like what I’m doing is the natural extension of where Simon has left it. I also don’t want to spoil the end of “Event Horizon”.

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I’m sure there are other choices that could have been made. I’m sure I could have pitched something else. This is what I want to see after knowing “Event Horizon”. After just looking at what I find interesting about these characters. Looking at the part also of Robotech that maybe had the most heavy-handed edit to it, to make it make sense. Even in of itself, to make it an appealing thing where Southern Cross had maybe failed on a few accounts. Finding what about it could be magic in the context of Robotech and then rewriting it and re-editing it to play to its strengths on its own and within the context of a larger saga. It’s all very interesting.

The characters of Jeanne versus Dana are very interesting. These are all things that I’m looking at and commenting on in a way. A thing that we don’t talk about as creators in the Robotech world very much is where everything came from. I want to do that. I want to talk about the importance of Jeanne Fránçaix as a character. I want to talk about the importance of “Deja Vu” as an opening theme song. I mean, I don’t want to reveal in this interview how/why I’m thinking about it, or how that exactly factors in. It’s important to me that we acknowledge the past while we’re remixing to create the present and the future.

Robotech: The Masters Saga - Episode 37: False Start

Are there any pivotal moments from the original Masters Saga that really stood out to you that really informed your writing of Dana?

All those moments where she has a breakdown. That moment in that back alley and she’s got the things that became the Cha-Cha’s. That moment where her artifice is down, she loses her mask. Or basically every scene with Bowie. Thinking about why Dana’s mask is important for her [and] for Bowie. As kids who grew up for a number of years almost as siblings. Dana feeling for this young boy who’s in a place that he shouldn’t be and wanting to protect him. Knowing that he is suffering emotionally the way she is, but he can’t cover it. [She tries to] lift him up through her own performance.

In “Dana’s Story” she sees Bowie’s not having a great time. She’s like, “Oh I’ll sing. No. I’ll tell you a story.”

That is exactly it. I think you can see it in “Curtain Call”. Bowie is a 10-year-old boy in this story. Dana is a 40-year-old woman. She has watched her best friend be born and grow to a 10-year-old boy. She knows what happened with her Bowie in the past. As much as she felt protective of Bowie during the Masters saga, imagine that now with a bunch of years later and she’s almost in a parental role with a young version of her best friend. Knowing what could become of him. Knowing where his heart is and wanting to do anything in the universe possible to protect it. 

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Just the fact that she took him to a music concert.

This is not Macross. It’s not all about music, but also, in every part of the Robotech saga, with the exception of Shadow Chronicles and Love Live Alive, music played a pivotal role. It’s part of the culture war against the Zentradi. In Masters Bowie is obviously a musician and that’s where his heart is. He would rather play music than fight. Dana even plays guitar. Musica had a hand in controlling the clones through music. It goes without saying that in the New Generation we have Yellow Dancer.

As a kid that stuff was so important to me. I grew up around music. My parents were musicians and it’s part of what sent me to Robotech. That music played such an integral role in every part of the saga. Again, not in the way that Macross has grown in Japan over the years to be something bigger with Delta having a girl group of essentially, magical girls whose music is central to the storyline. That’s not what Robotech’s about. To me, when I want to see a new chapter of Robotech there has to be music in it somewhere. So that will play a part in everything that I’m doing here.

On just a side note, a little easter egg (in Curtian Call) Bowie’s wearing his Casio size portable keyboard on his back and his strap says, Sato Dan on it. The two composers of the Southern Cross score. I’m a big nerd. Have you listened to the music score? Speaking of taking a thing and making it your own, there are pieces of music in there that are almost direct lifts from other bands. There’s an action cue that’s essentially “Synchronicity II” by The Police.

Here’s the super deep cut question, because we know in the show about Maia Sterling who showed up in Shadow Chronicles. We assume that’s the same one that we saw in that weird vision at the end of Masters. What about the one that Dana mentions with Zor where he says, “Do you have a boyfriend?” and she answers, “No, I just had a brother.”

I don’t know if I should say anything. It might be something that is addressed in the very concrete way in the story.

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Do you have anything else to say for the fans that are going to be reading this? People who might be coming to this for the first time. In the past it’s ostensibly been said, “you can read the Robotech comic if you’ve never seen the series.”

It’s my goal to make this super readable, but I’m also coming into it adopting a massive cast and entire saga of stories that take place before mine. I admit that it’s a challenge to make it streamlined. My inner fan, what I want to see out of it, but also presenting it as a clean, easily readable story. I hope it’s appealing to everybody. I can’t pull myself far enough away from it to know that it is or not. I almost have to have the finished first issue and give it to my wife and ask her, “Does this make sense to you?” Everyone else whose read it is sort of too deep in the weeds to know for sure. It is my goal to make it something super accessible while also answering a lot of questions that my inner fan needs answered.

Shamus Kelley is a pop culture/television writer and official Power Rangers expert. Follow him on Twitter! He also co-hosts a Robotech podcast, which covers the original series and the new comics. Give it a listen! Read more articles by him here!