Reviews

Review – Transformers: Beast Wars #1 (IDW Publishing)

Transformers: Beast Wars #1 (IDW Publishing) cover A (detail) by Josh Burcham
  • Writing - 9/10
    9/10
  • Art - 8/10
    8/10
  • Overall - 9/10
    9/10

Transformers: Beast Wars #1

Writer: Erik Burnham
Artist: Josh Burcham
Letterer: Jake M. Wood
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Maturity Rating: N/A
Release Date: February 3 2021

The Maximals and Predacons are at war again! The 25th anniversary of Beast Wars comes at us with an exciting, all-new comic with familiar faces and new stories to come.

Overall
8.7/10
8.7/10
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Transformers: Beast Wars #1 – Is a T-Rex Cooler Than a Lamborghini? Yesss!

Transformers: Beast Wars #1 invokes time travel in more ways than one! If you were alive in the 1990s, you’ll no doubt remember how “extreme” things could get. By that, I mean it seemed to be the go-to marketing gimmick to slap bright, neon colors and guitar riffs on just about anything to make it more appealing to young people. Bonus points if you could include skateboards, wallet-chains, and spiked hair. Another fad gaining massive popularity in the decade was computer-generated imagery, or CGI.

Transformers: Beast Wars #1 (IDW Publishing) cover B by Dan Schoening
Transformers: Beast Wars #1 (IDW Publishing) cover B by Dan Schoening

Here, previous methods such as hand-drawn cartooning or stop-motion effects were replaced by computer models and animation rigging. Arguably, Jurassic Park in 1993 set a milestone for what could be done with CGI versus practical effects—and that film blended both methods quite remarkably, at that. Suddenly, CGI was an option for entire animated productions. And with a little energon and a lot of luck, Transformers made the leap from animation cels to computer screens with Beast Wars.

Remember those guitar riffs and garish colors? Then you might remember the catchy Beast Wars television theme music. If it’s stuck in your head now, sorry, not sorry. Welcome to the 25th anniversary of Transformers: Beast Wars.

Writing

With any established story, taking liberties, making changes, risks alienating your audience. People hate to see their nostalgia messed around with. That’s the knee-jerk reaction, and I believe that if anyone actually stops to think about it, telling the exact same story as what’s come before really wouldn’t make any sense. Thankfully, Erik Burnham here understands there’s a fine line between nailing the requisite bullet points of what’s been told before and weaving in something new. There are established characters reintroduced right from the start, and they feel like their old selves. We have some new entries as well, and they don’t feel out of place. We get the necessary sense of menace from Megatron and camaraderie between Optimus Primal and Rhinox, the thick sarcasm from Rattrap, hints of adventure and fun and it’s good. Quite good. Carry on, Erik.

The story in Transformers: Beast Wars #1, so far, doesn’t differ greatly from how the Beast Wars television series began. But you can see how they’re setting up future changes that should keep things fresh.

Art

I wholly admit, I’m a bit of the “knee-jerk” guy I mentioned above. When it comes to throwing a new coat of paint on an established franchise, trepidation runs high. Transformers toys have a look and feel to them, and that includes the original packaging art. The 1984 animated series definitely has an aesthetic all its own. The Beast Wars show followed suit and established many aspects of its part of the franchise with aplomb—character designs, voice work, and the method of storytelling were all cemented in nostalgia by the time the show’s run ended. There’s a “formula” here and it works. Transformer: Beast Wars #1 here seems to have nailed it as far as tone. So, what about art?

Some Big Changes

Well, now. My first thoughts on seeing initial concept art for this new series was a fervent “oh, hell no.” Here we have a marked departure from the original character designs and art style. Josh Burcham’s work goes in hard with more straight, heavy lines and corners, shading for days, and a simplification of detail and color schemes overall. Everything feels more pointy, poke-y, and one could argue, in some ways rushed. The art here bears very little resemblance to anything Beast Wars that came before—especially the smooth CGI of the show—and that can be instantly off-putting to a fan. It was nearly so for me. Full stop. What were IDW and the artist doing to some of the most iconic characters in the franchise? Story changes, subtle, significant, I could abide more readily. But the shift in artwork felt like a rug was pulled out from under me.

But It’s Good!

Nevertheless, I relented and picked up the first issue. I’m glad I did. The art style is a speedbump, certainly. This is like going from 1985’s classic ThunderCats to 2020’s ThunderCats Roar in terms of art. It’s a left turn away from most traditional comics, and even other Transformers comics running right now, as well. This isn’t Jim Lee. It’s not Alex Milne or Anna Malkova. And that’s okay! Very quickly I found the art had a charm to it, it is effective in keeping each panel uncluttered and every character is recognizable. The colors are absolutely wonderful, which has been Burcham’s pedigree stretching back to the old Dreamwave comics. Overall, it does feel a bit pared down, “web comic”-y, in some ways, yes. Though I quickly likened it to the severe stylistic change that came with the Transformers: Animated television series, and that’s something I can appreciate entirely.

Soon enough, as the pages turned, I was having a great time. It’s fine, we’re fine, deep breaths. Sometimes we need to keep the spirit of what’s old alive while not retreading the exact same ground, right? I don’t think I would have enjoyed this issue as much if the art style hadn’t changed.

Come the conclusion of Transformers: Beast Wars #1, the writer and artist have a short Q&A on how they became involved in the book and their thoughts on the story moving forward. Having read the issue and this section, I think Beast Wars is in good hands here. These guys seem to get it.

Overall

Earlier, I mentioned Transformers: Animated and how the art style was a change from what we’d seen in the franchise before then. There were changes to the “Autobots-on-Earth” storyline as well. Rather than completely forsake the franchise’s legacy, the creators there very skillfully adapted it into something new and no less appealing. The writers and character designers were fans and it showed. I see the same happening with Beast Wars here. The art is different. The story is tweaked, but faithful. It’s a pair of nostalgia glasses with your trusty old frames, but shiny new lenses. This makes me very hopeful for what’s to come!


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