Title: "Transformers Beast Wars" Savage Landing Part 01
Written by: Erik Burnham
Art by: Josh Burcham
Letters by: Jake M. Wood
Assistant Editor: Riley Farmer
Editor: David Mariotte
Disclaimer: IDW Publishing provided a digital advance copy of this comic book for review. BWTF offers its sincere thanks to IDW Publishing for its generosity and partnership.
I remember very distinctly where I was sitting in 1996 (or so) when it was revealed online (via Usenet, yes, I'm ancient) that Transformers as I had known them for a decade were changing into some new fangled thing called Beast Wars. This new series would be focusing on something called "Maximals" versus Predacons (no, not those Predacons, new ones!). There I was sitting at my desk at NYU Law School and basically losing my damn mind - in a bad way. I mourned the loss of Autobots. I dreaded the animal-centric focus of the line and I suddenly felt like a piece of my childhood had been ripped away forever (I got that part wrong didn't I?).
In time however, I grew to love Beast Wars and I remember distinctly buying my very first Beast Wars toys (the Optimus Primal/Megatron two pack, Waspinator and Dinobot). As soon as I started playing with these things I was in love, and in time I would become one of the most fierce advocates of the line, and to this day it holds a special place in my heart and I credit it with saving the Transformers brand in the 90's.
Fast forward 20+ years later and I cracked open IDW Publishing's new Beast Wars title with some trepidation. Yes, I love Beast Wars but I am also fiercely protective of it, and unlike my twenty something year old self, I'm older now and rather set in my ways and I feared my mental flexibility is not quite what it used to be with dramatic changes to something I love. So after a long day of work, and half asleep, I read through this issue and...I didn't like it. At this point, twenty something year old Ben said to forty something year old Ben "That's not right. This is Beast Wars. This is your jam. Let's try again tomorrow." and so I did.
Since my first read, I have gone through this issue three more times and I have decided that it is good but the series has not "hooked me" yet (mind you, it's on my pull list at my comic shop so...). The first thing I had to realize to enjoy this issue is that this Beast Wars tale is not set in any previously established continuities. It is not from the TV Show, the previous IDW Publishing "Gathering" comic books or any of the Japanese shows. Instead, it appears to take bits and pieces of previous lore and creates a patchwork continuity that nods to what came before, but does its own thing. This went a long way in helping me appreciate the story, otherwise I was finding myself going down a rabbit hole looking for supposed "continuity errors" when really, there are none since this is a whole new thing.
From that perspective, I can appreciate the story. This is pretty much an "origin" issue. We see the theft of the Golden Disk (something previously covered by a Botcon comic book), The Tripredacus Council weighs in on Megatron's plan, we see the crew of the Axalon being sent after the Predacons and we see them crash on ancient Earth (or at least, we assume it is) and take on beast forms. I do appreciate the story filling in some gaps. For instance, why did the Maximal command not send other ships after Megatron? Answer: Megatron had the foresight to blow them all up! These little touches are fun, and we get some interesting character beats such as Optimus Primal explaining he was assigned to the Axalon to "tame him" (presumably from his "Sometimes Crazy Works" attitude). In many ways this read like the first half of a scifi series pilot episode, and I mean that in a good way. I actually found myself wishing that this was a double sized issue so we could get to the first confrontation between the Maximals and Predacons as our climax to the "episode" before the rest of the series kicks in.
I mentioned earlier that this is a new continuity. My brain spent a lot of time trying to shoehorn this into the TV show from the 90's, but too much is different. From a visual perspective, the Axalon is a blocky ship instead of the curved, armordillo like shape from the 90's series. The interior is bright and spacious, more akin to the Enterprise-D from Star Trek: The Next Generation than the cramped, dimly lit ship from the cartoon. Key events are also different. For instance, in this story it is Rhinox, not Optimus Primal who decides to eject the Stasis Pods into orbit. Also, Dinobot does not challenge Megatron for leadership after they get their new bodies (I'm guessing this happens later in issue #2). Perhaps the most significant difference is the introduction of the new Maximal Nyx, a female who transforms into a bat.
Okay, so let's stop there for a second. This series introduces two new characters into Beast Wars canon: Nyx, the Maximal bat and Skold, a Predacon snapping turtle. Nyx is intended as a homage to Optimus Primal's seldom seen "bat form" and Skold is a callback to Snapper, a figure from the original Beast Wars toy line that never made it into the show. Nyx is portrayed as an ace pilot, and I appreciate the nod to a toy that is not often remembered in the Transformers canon. However, I could not help but find myself wondering why Sonar and Snapper were not used instead. I would have liked to see these oft ignored characters get their due in this series. I am especially confounded by Skold, who is meant to be a homage to Snapper. Why not just use Snapper then? Odd choice, but I think time will reveal more of the rationale behind this decision.
Art duties on this book are handled by Josh Burcham, who has a very distinct, exaggerated style. I actually like his art a lot. It has some of the same energy as long-time Transformers artist Geoff Senior and he conveys action well. When it comes to straight forward robots (meaning no organic bits) his style works very well. However, his work on the post-techno-organic Maximals and Predacons is a mixed bag. Optimus Primal and Rattrap look appropriately fuzzy for instance, and Tarantulas looks wonderfully creepy in beast mode. On the other hand, Megatron looks almost mechanical in both beast and robot mode. The beast mode is very blocky in the small view we get of it, and in robot mode there are too many hard angles and not enough of the smoother pieces of techno-organic "skin" that I would associate with the character. Burcham can absolutely draw critters (there is a bird in one panel towards the end that looks fantastic and very organic). I understand the art is highly stylized, but I hope the unique organic-nature of the Maximals and Predacons in this story are not forgotten in future issues.
This issue is a good start to the series, but I think I would have gotten more enjoyment out of it if it was a double sized issue ending in some type of battle "establishing" the Beast Wars. I did struggle a bit, and I have really had to force myself to be mentally flexible on accepting certain aspects of this new continuity, but I did so because Beast Wars deserves to be given a chance once again twenty five years after its debut.
- Megatron's pre-Beast Wars name is revealed as "Galavar". This differs from the intent of the original Beast Wars series tory editors who speculated once that Megatron's name would have been an alpha-numeric designation.
- Statues of Wheeljack are seen in the Science Minitry's Research Center, a nice nod to the "mad scientist" of the Autobots.
- "Unit-3" appears in an unspoken cameo in the Golden Disk theft scene.
- Several of the pre-Earth designs are borrowed from past Botcon exclusives including Unit-3, Cheetor, Rattrap, Waspinator and Rhinox.
- Several elements of the Axalon and (presumably named) Darksyde crashing to (again I'm assuming) Earth are taken right out of the original cartoon. This includes the Stasis Pods being ejected into orbit and the two ships crashing in opposite directions.