IDW Beast Wars #1 Review

Allspark staff reviewer David shares his thoughts on the highly anticipated debut issue of IDW’s Beast Wars, and hopes for the series as a whole.

Before I begin, you should know whether my biases are anything like yours. I am a longtime fan of Beast Wars, and by that I mean I was there for episode 1 on UPN. I have not however been a fan of Beast Wars comics. I’ve found them all terrible. I have also not been a fan of comics generally, or at least modern comics. I stopped reading them because they felt like stories chopped into pieces by page count, rather than by story beat. I am okay with serialization. But in TV terms, an issue of a comic didn’t feel like an episode; it just felt like one segment between commercial breaks. So in approaching this, I was hoping for a comic to be what I like about Beast Wars, and not be what I dislike in comics. Do with this information what you wish. Now let’s begin.
The Writing
The big question leading up to this comic’s release was whether it would be a retread of familiar ground or do something truly fresh. So far the answer is yes. Longtime Beast Wars fans will find few surprises in the plot. It’s very much a retelling (and, dare I say it, an improved one) of about the first half of episode 1 of the cartoon, plus an extended opening showing the theft of the Golden Disk. However, it’s important to remember that the cartoon began with the space battle and crash landing on Earth. We never actually saw the theft of the Golden Disk, except in Fun Publications’ prequel comic written ten years later. This is our first time seeing these events presented in chronological order as a single narrative, and it does make for a different experience, and for me a generally enjoyable one.

I must talk about the characterization of the Predacons. I enjoyed every panel with these jerks. One particular success is the early argument between Terrorsaur, Dinobot, and Scorponok regarding what to do with a harmless foe (Under-3, in a rare cameo). In just a few brief panels we get a taste of their very different personalities, without relying on expository intro-dumping.  It’s successful ‘show, don’t tell’ characterization.

I found myself less satisfied with the Maximals, and hoping my time away from the Predacons would be brief. The biggest offender here is Optimus Primal. Firstly, he’s introduced in a long practice battle with Rhinox, and with both characters doing the same actions for three pages the scene requires telling, rather than showing to introduce their personalities, exactly the approach that was successfully avoided with the Predacons. Worse, Primal’s personality feels very off. He’s too excited, too eager for adventure. It’s too obvious that he agrees to follow the Predacons for the thrill, rather than a sense of duty. Yes, I remember that the cartoon character said “Sometimes crazy works” and his plans did tend to follow that philosophy, but that was after he spent the very early episodes learning to loosen up. I can accept a new take on the character, but here he seems younger than Cheetor. That cannot be right.
To bring this back to a positive note, and what I think is the biggest triumph of the comic, I must talk about the pacing. This book caught me by surprise. I already mentioned the scene of Primal and Rhinox practice fighting for three pages. That, in this comic, feels like an eternity.  Otherwise, this is not the sort of comic where every line of a conversation gets its own panel. This is a comic where huge events can play out in a single page. As a reader who admittedly hasn’t been reading comics in quite some time, this felt like a dense book. At one point, the Maximals have received their mission, taken their positions, discussed what they’re going to do next, and the next thing we see is a nearly full page dramatic shot of the whole crew ready to do their thing. There is something about the pacing of the scene, and the framing of that particular page. From the experience I do have with 21st century Transformers comics, everything in my being told me the characters were getting ready for the next issue and I’d reached the cliffhanger ending of this one.
Then I realized I was only halfway through. I immediately forgave how long that practice fight took. This issue’s pacing was more impressive than I thought.
The Art
And then there is the art. My initial feelings were entirely positive, so let’s start there. I liked the characters’ Cybertronian forms, which is good because that is how they spend the majority of the issue. Color is used brilliantly. This comic likes to have things both ways, such as the Tripredacus Council having their 1997 toy color schemes, while spooky lighting is used to match their cartoon appearance. Now I finally know which one is which! Some of the Earthbound main characters also take advantage of their 1996 toy colors. Tarantulas has his silver head, and Terrorsaur has all sorts of purple that never appeared in the show. I still have my own purple helmeted Terrorsaur, and something I’ve always wished for in a Beast Wars revival was for the 1996 toy colors to get another chance without the cartoon overshadowing them forever. I was initially delighted.
I also got a kick out of the designs themselves. Longtime Beast Wars fans will recognize many of the characters as being based on their Fun Publications designs, though Optimus Primal appears to be based on the 10th Anniversary toy. This is not simply Beast Wars: The Show: The Comic. It draws from a variety of sources, and seems like it’s trying to be comprehensive.

Unfortunately, where it all goes wrong is the presentation of it. I do not like this art style. I feel bad about how much I dislike the art, because it’s not that there wasn’t enough care put into it. The ideas here are great. I love the thought put into the designs. I love the thought put into the colors. It’s not badly drawn. But I’m not sure it’s Beast Wars. I’ve seen this art style compared to Transformers Animated, and it does feel like a more appropriate fit for that, but Animated at least had curves.  I dare you to find a curve anywhere in this comic. Okay the planets are round. Speech bubbles are round. But the characters are made entirely of hard lines and sharp corners. Towards the end I convinced myself that maybe this was a clever stylistic choice, that once the characters scanned their beast modes they would trade the hard lines for some organic looking curves. It wasn’t to be. Their beast modes are just as angular as their Cybertronian robot forms. Their beast mode EYES are angular.
Overall, I liked it well enough that I’ll be reading the next issue. I would like to see the art style develop into something more distinctly Beast Wars. Show us some curves, please. If not, I think I can overlook it on the sheer strength of the writing. If nothing else, it is the best Beast Wars comic I’ve ever read.