IDW Beast Wars #2 Review

Allspark staff reviewer David gives his review of IDW’s Beast Wars #2.
He is worried.

In my review of the first issue I praised how meaty the book felt. In television terms, it felt like a full and proper episode, whereas some comic books often feel like just a segment between commercial breaks, and you need to read the trade to get the whole episode. Beast Wars #1 was a worthwhile read in its own right, and I had high hopes that the series would continue that approach.

Beast Wars #2 continued that approach! I’m satisfied with the scope of the story seen here, and I loved the ending. I am not satisfied with the execution but I have to begin this review by acknowledging that this issue attempted to do exactly what I asked of it and mostly pulled it off. So this is not a review of a book that simply didn’t cater to my tastes. This is a book that very much wants me to like it, but left me with concerns.
For the most part, the characters are quite fun here. My main concern continues to be Optimus Primal, who still seems too young and adventurous. Whereas Optimus Primal on the show spent the early episodes learning to loosen up, this Optimus Primal is already there. Perhaps this Optimus Primal will have the opposite journey, learning to take his job more seriously. But I wonder what that leaves to do with Cheetor. I will be okay with different characterization so long as it’s not less characterization. Time will tell.
I have to talk about Nyx, or rather talk about why I don’t talk about Nyx. I didn’t talk about her at all last time because she gave me nothing to talk about, and that wasn’t a problem when the issue had so much else to do. Well, as of this second issue I still don’t have much to talk about, which feels weird when she’s a star here. There’s nothing wrong with her as far as I know, but the problem is I don’t know. I don’t have a read on her character yet. She’s adorable and I am ready to buy the first toy she gets, so I suppose the job is done, but I would like to love her personality too if that’s okay. Whatever that personality is.

This issue’s set piece is a climactic fight between Nyx and Terrorsaur, our two main fliers and obligatory rivals. I presume the occurrence of this fight is not a spoiler. It’s what the front cover promised. What was surprising to me is that so much of the issue had nothing whatsoever to do with that set piece. Most of the issue was spent laying seeds for future adventures, as characters are hard at work doing their various jobs and coming up with plans, some of which are shared with their teammates and others kept close to the chest. Except for Rattrap, who is very much not hard at work doing anything of use to his teammates. This feels like a deliberate contrast with the rest of the cast, and I like where the book is going with this.

That point about the issue’s various threads having little to do with the main set piece actually wasn’t a criticism. While it sounds like the opposite of what I hoped this book would be, it’s actually something I rather liked. About halfway through the issue I realized that it felt like I was watching an episode of the cartoon, which is probably the highest praise that can be given to a Beast Wars comic. If you’ll recall, many of that show’s episodes that were ostensibly about selling the shiny new toy ended up giving that new toy about two minutes of screentime in a climactic battle, while the rest of the episode was spent doing substantial plot development with other characters. Blackarachnia’s debut episode was primarily about Rattrap. Inferno’s debut episode was primarily about Tarantulas and Blackarachnia. Rampage’s debut episode was all about Silverbolt and Blackarachnia. Now this comic issue wasn’t the debut for either Nyx or Terrorsaur, but it still felt like it was trying to take that Beast Wars cartoon approach to things, and I want to love it. Most of the time I did love it.

And then there is my new least favorite panel in the history of Transformers comics. Why oh why is this comic revealing the Vok in full, with names even, in only the second issue? What is the point of giving it all away so quickly? It wasn’t until episode 25 that we heard one speak on the show. It wasn’t until episode 50 that we saw what they look like, and if I spent my entire life searching I doubt I would meet a fan who didn’t find that eventual reveal a bit unfulfilling. The Vok were far more interesting and effective when they were an unseen presence, observing the Beast Wars with unknown intent. Yes, longtime fans already know what the Vok look like, and there is no recreating that mystery for us. Somebody out there is reading the comic without having seen the show, and I don’t think they were served well here.
What makes it all worse is that this issue does touch on the mystery aspect. Had this comic cut the pages spent spoiling everything about the Vok, this issue still would have done the job of setting their plotline into motion. The Vok leave behind traces of their presence. Characters are already picking up clues that something they don’t understand is going on, and that they’re being watched. It’s such a shame that it’s a journey we won’t get to go on with them. We cut to the destination before they’ve even gotten started.
I want to end on a happier note, so I’ll say the art is growing on me. I stand by what I said about it last time, and it hasn’t changed here. Everyone is still made entirely of hard lines and angles, and I still don’t think it’s the right fit for Beast Wars. But the art is undeniably lively, and this issue takes advantage of that liveliness in some great moments.
I am going to keep reading, because I do want to find out what happens next issue. There’s a lot here that’s working for me. But please find a way to surprise me with the Vok, because right now they’re feeling like a serious unforced error.
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