Roaring into print just in time for the series’ 25th anniversary is a new comic series from IDW focusing on the war between Maximals and Predacons. Described by writer Erik Burnham as being in the vein of “Marvel’s old Ultimate line,” Transformers: Beast Wars #1 focuses on retelling the story from the beloved television series from the ’90s, albeit with a few new twists. Burnham and artist Josh Burcham create an extra-sized debut issue that is sure to delight older fans.
SPOILERS AHEAD for Transformers: Beast Wars #1!
The issue begins on Cybertron as the Predacon Tripredacus Council meets with the Predacon Galavar to discuss the stealing of a golden disk from the Cybertronian Science Ministry. The Council does not permit Galavar to go through with his plan, but unbeknownst to them, he has already put it into action. As Galavar explains his plan to the council, readers see it at work as a force of Predacons steals the disk, while another steals a ship with a transwarp drive so that they can make their getaway. Then we cut to a Maximal vessel tasked with transporting stasis pods.
The vessel’s new captain, Optimus Primal, spars with his elder, Rhinox, and laments the fact that he’s been assigned this menial transport task rather than being out in the action. From here, things play out similarly to the opening minutes of the show’s pilot episode. Optimus Primal and his crew happen to be in the right place and time to intercept Galavar, who changes his name to Megatron, and in the pursuit, both ships are disabled and crash on an unfamiliar planet.
This will all seem familiar for fans of the show, albeit with added depth. The first few episodes of the television show do not hold up particularly well, and the depth the series would come to be known for was largely absent. This was, of course, a children’s show meant to sell toys to kids (and as one of those kids, it succeeded in spades, much to the dismay of my parents’ wallets). But Erik Burnham and Josh Burcham do a good job in giving a little more background to the characters, as well as setting up plot lines that could follow the arcs on the show or not.
As an example, the Tripredacus Council did not appear in the show until late in Season 2, and so their involvement here in the first issue better sets up their later involvement, even if the comic ultimately deviates down the line. There are also new characters, Nyx and Skold, who both help diversify what is otherwise an all-male cast. Josh Burcham borrowed from the toyline for the new characters — Nyx is based on the bat version of Optimus Primal, while Skold is based on the Predacon snapping turtle named, you guessed it, Snapper. While we get good introductions to Nyx, Skold, and the rest of the cast, the focus of this debut issue is focused primarily on getting all the pieces in play for the rest of the story arc. With a lot of exposition intercut with action, letterer Jake M. Wood does a fantastic job balancing the word balloons on the page. Even when the script gets wordy, Wood makes sure that the pages don’t feel weighed down.
Josh Burcham’s artwork presents a pretty big visual shift from the television series, but it’s definitely welcome. The looser lines and minimalistic backgrounds are more in line with modern cartoons than the show the comic is adapting. The approach didn’t quite work for me on Cybertron, with the planet coming across a bit bland in design for a robotic world, but the rest of the issue came across much more positively. The sparring between Rhinox and Optimus Primal comes across with crackling energy, and the design choice to have Rhinox’s head evoke a hoplite helmet plume helps sell him as a grizzled war veteran.
Additionally, the space battle between the Maximal’s ship, the Axalon, and the Predacons’ Darksyde, soars right off the page, with the energetic blasts coming from the ships hopefully serving as a preview for the action between the stranded factions. Frustratingly, the story doesn’t get beyond the Cybertronians’ arrival on the strange world.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Beast Wars without the appropriately titled Beast Modes, the alternate forms that shield the Maximals and Predacons from surrounding radiation. It’s here that Burcham’s art really shines, as the Beast Mode disguises are expressive creations that add another dimension to the physicality of the characters in a way that a more realistic style couldn’t achieve.
As stylish as the issue is, I’m not sure how it will strike new readers. I am a Beast Wars fan. I was eight when the show premiered in September 1996. I own it on DVD (and had previously meticulously recorded the whole series onto VHS). I had at least half the toys in the toyline. It’s impossible for me to step fully back and read Transformers: Beast Wars #1 as if I don’t know who these characters are. That being said, I think there are some parts here that will land better than others with new readers. I suspect that Galavar changing his name to Megatron is confusing more than anything for those who aren’t familiar with the character. However, Nyx’s contrast stands out as a positive, as does the character work done between Optimus Primal and Rhinox.
Transformers: Beast Wars #1 is a solid debut, but not perfect. The opening on Cybertron adds some clarity to the backgrounds of the characters, but also might seem a bit confusing. Additionally, while the first issue is fairly loyal to the pilot episode, it would have been nice to get some action that better showed off the Beast Modes that made this era of the Transformers franchise so unique. For existing fans, this is a welcome bite of nostalgia that will hopefully offer a number of surprises. For new fans, this introduction might be a touch confusing or maybe even lackluster. Burnham and Burcham have a nice start, but this series needs to get moving if its going to stay ahead of the pack.
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