IDW Publishing: Beast Wars Sourcebook #2

in 2007, Beast Wars, Comic Book Review

IDW Publishing

Beast Wars Transformers Sourcebook #2 Review

General Information:
Title: "Beast Wars Transformers Sourcebook #2"
Cover Price: $6.99 (US)
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Written by: Simon Furman and Ben Yee
Art by: Don Figueroa, Guido Guidi, Dan Khanna, Marcelo Matere, Robby Musso, Nick Roche, Rob Ruffolo, James Raiz,
Colors by: Josh Burcham, Gabriel Eltaeb, Guido Guidi, Marcelo Matere, Liam Shalloo, Simon Williams
Design by: Mike Heisler and Neil Vyetake
Edits by: Kris Oprisko and Dan Taylor
Release Year: October 2007

Cover image
As with the first issue of the Sourcebook, I feel it would be unfair of me to do a review since I helped write it. Instead, I'll be discussing more of the tought processes behind the Sourcebook and characters.

Over the course of the past month, I've noticed some comments about how "true" we stayed to each character's original portrayal, especially when it comes to the Japanese characters. Some criticized our choices of altering abilities and/or personalities from the original characters as portrayed in the anime. It is not an invalid criticism, however there was logic behind it. Often time when it comes to anime, you can get away with certain types of characterization that you can't with a US audience. For instance, in the first episode of "Beast Wars the Second", Apache is shown throwing a fit while cans of some beverage are being thrown about (the inference is that he is drunk and upset). Add to that his name has a Native American root and the stereotypes of intoxicated Native Americans, and you had one stereotype being played out that raised a lot of eyebrows when the show first aired. In other instances, the characterization just didn't work well in the context of the Beast Wars universe being established. For instance, Hardhead is played as quite dumb in the cartoon, but I did not want a total idiot to be in the Predacon army so I downplayed that element. The point is, there was a rationale behind everything we did, and part of our profile writing involved reading through the tech specs of the characters as well. Characterizations were not just haphazardly thrown onto robots, there was a thought process in place.

As with the last issue, I stress that the layout and artwork choices were completely out of the hands of Simon and myself. At the time we wrote this, we had no idea who was going the artwork for which character or what the layout would look like. Had we been given input, some things may have been different (and I comment on this below on certain profiles).

And now some thoughts on some of the characters I wrote:

While Drancron is the fast, sharp Blendtron and Rartorata is the really weird and dangerous one, I wanted Elephorca to be the brute instrument of destruction used by Unicron. However, I did not just want him to be some random Predacon who decided to "get more power" via Unicron, so I instead chose to give his character a bit more resonance by making him someone who was once a peaceful robot twisted into a terrible purpose. Often, Unicron's heralds are portrayed as creatures who already had something evil about them, but I wanted to do the reverse. Take a character who was constructive and turn him destructive. His ability to mass shift is something I threw in because of what beasts make up his form: an elephant and an orca, two creatures that definitely bring up thoughts of size and power. Unfortunately, they only named his beast mode an "Elephant" when it should read "Elephant/Orca" and I have sent this correction in for the trade paperback.

Botcon based characters prior to 2005 were sort of a touchy area for me when I wrote these profiles. For a little while, I considered not having them in there at all because of the potential problems with the issues surrounding that convention before Fun Publications took it over. In the end however, it would have been wrong to exclude them. Following our general guidelines, so long as the character had a toy made, we went with making a profile. In Fractyl's case, we stayed with the "Beast Wars" version of him since his later Transmetal form was part of a rather murky area in continuity that we did not consider necesarily a part of the IDW Beast Wars universe. His personality wrote itself. A scientist among power hungry warriors would be an oddball, but clearly his brain is what makes him worth keeping around. I was really tempted to use the term "Furmanite" in the abilities, but I thought it best to leave it a bit more ambiguous even though I do refer to it.

I enjoyed writing Gigastorm's profile since it acts as an extension of Megastorm's. In Megastorm's profile it is stated that he realizes one day he may have to be at odds with Galvatron, and this profile confirms that the story of these two "brothers" did come to a head at some point in history. In an odd way, this profile represented the "maturing" of the character. For his abilities I looked upon Trypticon's tech specs as a guide and bolstered the abilities. The way I saw it, Megastorm could have had Trypticon's general design in his databanks and the Angolmois energy allowed him to reformat his body into the most powerful form he had data for and then magnify it to boot. I toyed with making Gigascouter an independent Transformer but I wasn't sure where he would come from without shoehorning some random new character into an existing profile, so instead I chose to make him more like a drone. As a side note, saying his horn is has hard as diamond is a direct reference to the character's tech spec. Oddly, on IDW's preview Gigascouter's artwork was shown in the profile, but it is missing here. I have suggested to IDW a way to move the text around a bit so they can fit Gigascouter in both his modes into the trade paperback.

Gimlet's personality was described as a super cheerful one in his tech specs, so I took that and ran with it. Granted, I stripped away the whole "Latin lovin'" aspect, mostly because it was just a bit too silly for my tastes. The idea behind him competing in sports was to show that during peacetime, some Maximals chose to participate in things other than say, scientific research or just running the Maximal Imperium. Since he was described as a "Polar Operative", I ran with it, giving him abilities that would make sense in a cold environment even though his original tech specs really did not touch on it at all. Seriously, I face palmed when I saw Gimlet's artwork. They drew him really nicely - and then gave him Sea Clamp's colors. Considering Sea Clamp is mostly a bright red color, this really bothered me. The correction has been sent to IDW, but really it should not have happened.

God Neptune:
For the most part, many of the G1 combiners were often given a weakness based upon the fact that their component parts did not get along. One example of this is Menasor, whose smaller parts resented Motormaster, and thus caused conflict. In other cases, the technology simply did not fuse the personalities together very well such as the case of Defensor where Groove's mind would "drift". However, I felt by the time of the Maximal/Predacon era the combiner process should have been refined, and to a large degree, each team's members should have been "prescreened" to combine. In the case of God Neptune, my feeling was that Halfshell would have hand selected his crew to create a force that works together seamlessly, with God Neptune serving as the ultimate representation of that. In this way, he's more similar to G1 Predaking, but with a bit more smarts and less "animal instinct". Using greed as the unifying force made sense for a pirate force and I have to say I love his artwork. It's simply spectacular.

The fun part about writing Grizzly-1 is that he's a bit of a history lesson in Transformers lore. When the Beast Wars line was first launched, several catalogs showed a bear Transformer to be released called Grizzly-1 aka Barbearian. However, when this sculpt finally came out, it took the form of the polar bear Polar Claw instead. Years later, Botcon Japan would launch exclusives of Barbearian/Grizzly-1 as the same character with a berserker persona. I love the idea that the biochemical makeup of the techno-organic Transformer bodies could effect behavior, and I loved the idea even more that using his "Mutant Head" would bring that out. These elements were present in his original tech specs, and I wanted to remain true to them since the ideas presented were so cool. I noticed that there was a lack of a Mutant Head picture. The art callouts that Simon and I wrote for the book did mention the Mutant Heads, and from what I know, the next issue should feature Mutant Heads where applicable.

One of the themes I wanted to use as I wrote these profiles was to go against a lot of what we have seen before. Often, "bad guy" leaders are portrayed as power hungry, only looking out for #1 and so on. Since Halfshell was leading a small crew, I liked the idea that he would hand pick them and actually care about them. In a sense, he's not truly eeeeevil, but rather he is driven by greed causing him to do bad things. However if it came down to the life of one of his Seacons or profit, I like to believe he would choose their life instead. This caring extends to his fusion with the others as God Neptune, making it a smooth fusion instead of one filled with conflict.

Ok, I know Hardhead was dumb as toast in the television show, but I really felt that the 'silly/wacy/not-so-bright' character archetype in Beast Wars truly belonged to someone else (who appears in issue #4, I'm sure you know who he izzz, I mean, is). So instead, I wrote this guy as a soldier, but one who was not really that great at original thinking (thus keeping part of his "not so bright" personality intact).

Some discussion has emerged online about how Icebird and the Mutants can be 'chronally displaced' in the mini-series "The Gathering" if they were experimented on by Megatron. In retrospect, I should have been clearer on this pont in the profile. The idea here is that Megatron experimented on the Protoforms that would become the Mutants. However, the events of the Beast Wars came to a head before he could see the results of the experiment. When the Stasis Pods were displaced in "The Gathering", the Mutants were among them. So if they were born with two beast modes, why have the hidden robot heads? Simple: as Protoforms they're still "robots" and "Transformers", so some of their original physical essence remains. I saw Icebird as the uniting force of the Mutants and the wisest. Also, he knows about Megatron - but not through any odd memories as a Protoform, but rather through an untold adventure (that so far is just in my head). The Mutants were such weird and wacky toys so I definitely wanted to keep his super powers intact. Those powers also seemed to be a proper compensation for him having lost his robot mode. As for the artwork, I was aware it would have been easy for the artist to just draw a generic polar bear (and thus, get him confused with Polar Claw art-wise) so I specified that his claws had to be huge and blood red, I'm happy to see both my points were followed!

Poor, poor Injector. His toy was so ill-conceived, not because it was necesarily a bad one (that largely depends on your tastes), but because he was so funky that many people ignored him - making him the Beast Wars shelf-warmer that stayed for well over a year while everyone else sold out. However, his tech specs always struck me as fun, and somewhat of a take on Starscream's (the arrogance, the "Air Commander" function etc.). His tech specs pointed out that he has a lot of pride, self esteem etc. but in my head I kept thinking "But he's so darned ugly!" so I decided to add a layer to his personality. He acts like he's one of the prettiest things around, but it's just to cover his true insecurities underneath (not an uncommon phenomenon among humans). For a bit of fun, I tossed in a mention of his original name (that Hasbro could not trademark at the time) "Aquasting" in reference to his missiles. I always thought that original name was much better than "Injector", so I made sure it was in there.

Like Injector, Jawbreaker is another example of a character who I did not want to take at face value. His tech specs described him as having a twisted sense of humor as well as preferring being outnumbered. My question was then: why is he so potentially self destructive? Looking at the toy for a bit gave me my answer. If you look at him, he really has no offensive ranged weaponry, he's all saws, claws and blades. If he's going to fight, he has to plunge into the enemy forces, and you do that long enough, I'm sure it wears down on your psyche. Truthfully, giving him the pulse lasers built into his arm was a bit of a concession. I originally wanted to just have him use only melee weapons, but that just seemed silly in a war where everyone carries a ranged weapon of some sort. I settled on making three tubes found on the toy's arms the lasers, though the artwork here does not show them prominantly (I do like the art a lot however). And yes, I made sure to put the word "cackle" in some tense in not only to reference his hyena beast mode but also the name used on the European release of this figure.

I began my writing of K-9 by looking at his beast mode: a German Shepard. Never mind the fact that this exact animal shouldn't have existed on ancient Earth. I speculate his Stasis Pod just locked onto a canine form and extrapolated from there or perhaps on this "fantasy Earth" of Beast Wars, there were German Shepards back then. That said, I thought about the reputation of these dogs as being smart, loyal, powerful and friendly all at the same time. Then I thought about cases of animal abuse (this comes from watching endless hours of "Animal Cops") and thought "What if you take this loyal, powerful and friendly creature and betray him? What effect does that have on all his future relationships?" and thus was born this profile. I also enjoy tech specs that tell a story about the character, so this seemed to be the natural place to do so.

Magnaboss (II):
It was a no brainer that we would wind up having two Magnabosses in this series since we were making Prowl separate from Lio Junior, Ironhide separate from Santon and Silverbolt separate from Skywarp. However, the part that took a bit of thought was how. For a time, I considered making Magnaboss some type of ethereal Maximal Spark that could "inhabit" certain combined forms, but that seemed a bit too odd (and would take quite a bit of explaining). Instead, I chose the simpler course, and one often used in comic books: Magnaboss was a legendary figure and thus to honor him these three combined into a form resembling him. I made sure to mention once or twice that he was not the equal of the original Magnaboss, but powerful in his own right. I did my second face palm of the issue when I saw his artwork. The art itself is fine, and I thanked the stars that they didn't just reuse Magnaboss "1"'s artwork. It's the colors which bugged me. One can say "Oh, that's an easy mistake to make since the two are so similarly colored", but the fact is I was asked directly by the editors at the time what the differences were and I sent them both links with photos of each figure - and yet somehow they still messed it up. This error infuriates me to no end since I deliberately tried to head it off at the pass and was obviously ignored. The corrections have been sent to the current editors to fix in the trade.

Manta Ray:
The joy of writing profiles for the McDonalds toys was that for the most part, they were blank slates. I did keep their affiliations intact of course, but everything else was open. For Manta Ray, I decided I wanted to make it a "her". There was something about the elegant look of a manta ray swimming in water that looked very feminine and sleek, so she seemed like the best of the four McDonalds toys to make into a female Predacon. Through the course of the Beast Wars series, sea-based forms were in the minority, so I figured it was a good place for Predacons to look for resources and thus I made Manta Ray their best scout. Her odd mental state is a result of her lonely missions, something which was actually inspired by G1 Cosmos' tech specs. I figured, what if someone was always on missions like this and lost some mental stability as a result? It was fun speculation to play with.

In the Beast Wars anime, Mantis was really not a nice guy. In fact, he was downright creepy. However, in this universe, I wanted his personality to fit in with the rest of the Insectrons, and thus I made him something else entirely. Whether or not his "new" personality works for you or not is of course a personal decision on your part, but I thought it worked out rather well. What inspired this take on the character was his whole aforementioned "competitive" streak of being a Discmaster against Autolauncher. On another note, I was really happy to see the art styles for Manterror and Mantis differ so much. The colors of course make the difference solid, but the styles worked out well.

This is truly one of those "Had I known..." profiles that I regret. Back when we were writing these books, we did not know how much room we would have to work with, so we played it safe. If I had known I would have a bit more text room to work with, I would have liked to have included some more background information on Megatron's past, perhaps what he was as "MGT-1" and so on. As it was, I felt it was important to encapsulate what had occurred in the show, fearing any backstory would just get edited out for space. That said, I believe the decision to give an entire page to the T-rex and Croc robot modes was a bit short sighted. With proper arrangement, all his art can appear, albeit in smaller form. I have already made these suggestions to IDw and hope they do it for the trade.

Whenever I think about Moon, all I can imagine is Artemis smashing him with her red mallet. He was truly one of those silly concept characters that I was going to dismiss at first. However, what stuck with me is that there was a toy, so I chose to rethink the whole concept of Gaea and Moon etc. First, in my mind (unless Simon intends to write something else in the future), Gaea is an Earth-like planet, but not "Future Earth" as the Beast Wars II series showed. Somehow, this cross bred in my mind with inspiration from Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" series. In that book, a group of people created an organization to preserve knowledge to help mankind shorten a potentia age of barbarism. In this universe, we created a race known as Celestials who went through an age of barbarism and came out of it, intending to become gatherers of knowledge. They employ agents throughout the universe, and Moon is one of them. In many ways, it was a reimagining of the character. I was thrilled to see the artist stuck very close to his animated appearance. If some vestige of his rather silly anime counterpart was going to remain, I felt that should be it. Artemis fans do not despair, she is mentioned in the upcoming glossary.

When I wrote the profile for Jawbreaker, I mention that Noctorro is his elder. This was done partly because I loved it whenever the G1 figures would mention another character in their tech specs. I also did this to state outright that just because a character is a Protoform, it does not mean they could not have had a previous life elsewhere. At the same time, I wanted to present a different take on an older Maximal. Sure he was brave, powerful, loyal etc. However he was also extremely stubborn and set in his ways, much like many of my elders in my family. On another note, I positively love the artwork for Noctorro. It is really well done and ranks as one of my favorites in this issue.

Final thoughts:
It was really sad to see many of the problems that plagued the first issue carried over into this one. Clearly the editor just did not care about the final product. I say that only because color references I sent personally were completely ignored. The layout choices were less mysterious this time, but still ill-conceived in some places. Overall, it's not a total trainwreck, but there are some gaping potholes on this road art-wise.