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Beast Wars: The Gathering #1 (of 4)
Reviewed by Denyer


I knew this was going to be interesting. Don't all head for the back buttons in your browsers at once, but I'm writing this as someone who's seen a mere handful of snippets of that show called Beast Wars. Why? Because I know roughly what happens in it, and can't be bothered to sit in front of a screen for hours on end to watch that unfold in slow motion. I like books. And comics. They tell at the pace I choose. Hopefully none of this will matter much, though, because the main cast of IDW's new Beast Wars comic aren't the show characters. They may appear for cameos at a few points, but what fans are being offered is something that sits in existing continuity and goes in its own direction but is respecting of what's been established.

The first double-page spread serves as a recap of the Beast Wars TV show, but rest assured that it's easy enough to follow for people who aren't hardcore fans, if we stick to the main facts: the so-called Beast Wars started when a conflict between two Cybertronian vessels in space resulted in the jettisoning of stasis pods containing Transformers lifeforms. Crew and pods ended up being thrown back through a time vortex and landing on prehistoric Earth. (Something I'm fairly sure was once a major spoiler for the TV series.) The crashed Cybertronians are forced to reformat themselves and use part-organic alternate modes due to a corrosive type of Energon that's prevalent on the planet, and each faction (Maximals and Predacons rather than Autobots and Decepticons) gains recruits from the pods. Eventually, authorities on Cybertron work out where (and when in time) the crash happened and send an agent to stop the guy who calls himself Megatron and is now a purple T-Rex. Whilst not the original Megatron, the agent is the original Ravage from the old comics and cartoons — but we'll get to that later. This is where the comic comes in. In fact, it's set specifically around the time of the episode 'Changing of the Guard', so we're still in the show timeline (Season Three) apart from any flashes forward in time to Cybertron.

Issue Review

In brief, Furman turns in a tight script — it no doubt helps that when this was posited as a miniseries for Dreamwave it was to be a six issue story rather than four — and Figureoa and Burcham prove an extremely complementary pairing on art duties.

I'll start with the story, since however great art is I don't think story should ever be subservient in a comic. It's notable that Furman hasn't gone for a bare-bones approach using established characters and keeping things as simple as possible — this is a story pitched at longterm fans as well as newcomers. Knowledge of other material will reward those readers, but doesn't prevent from anyone following along as a straightforward "bad guy tries to build an army, good guys try to stop him" story. Like I said before, I'm only familiar myself with most of Beast Wars through talking about it with others.

Beast Wars: The Gathering #1 is an excellent example of an author putting together a story using the loose ends left by other storytellers as a starting point. It's something Furman was compelled to do all the time when he was writing for Marvel UK in the 80s and 90s, since his stories had to fit as well as possible with the Marvel US strips that were being reprinted. Consequently, the UK got a great deal of extra comics material compared to the US, and much of it is judged to be superior in part because of the hoops the young author had to jump through. Necessity being the mother of invention, although it's also a setup he seems to have particular enthusiasm for.

Perhaps the most interesting facet of the story (and this issue in specific, and the part that holds my interest most strongly) is the glimpse we catch of future Cybertron, inhabited by unfamiliar characters but recognisable as the war-torn and energy-short planet of old. People tend to watch Beast Wars and assume that by now all Transformers are predisposed towards beast modes. Rare scenes in the show and stories like this clarify that it's not the case — Transformers simply have more options in the future, relative peace having allowed a great deal of technological progress.

Which brings me to gushing about the art... Which is proportionate; it's expressive; it's detailed without being overly so. It covers perfectly for the fact I think organic alt modes are, frankly, a silly idea. It's hard to believe that Figureoa has only been doing this professionally for about three years, in which time his laying out of panels has come on tremendously. The colouring is perfectly matched (I know, I keep using words like 'perfect'. This is fairly out-of-character.) Burcham's style tends towards a painted look rather than being obviously Photoshopped, not overdoing the highlight/shadow contrast and not taking shortcuts such as block bright colour to indicate clear light conditions. The scenes on Cybertron are done in muted colours, though from one page on which the text is slightly grey rather than black I suspect that brighter versions of these pages exist. In any case, it works effectively, capturing the mood of a planet in the early stages of a cold war. A neat little touch are the panel edges — for Earth hard lines, for Cybertron they're more organic with the colouring gradated towards outlines.

Things I'm a bit less keen on:
  • The story title — The Gathering — is already a cliché of Magic cards and Highlander. The logo text on the cover doesn't quite gel with the painted art, floating above it with shadows and small lettering.
  • The first three pages seem to have been drawn and coloured at an earlier point than the rest of the issue, and in them some of the character art feels saturated and rougher, particularly faces. This is a minor niggle though, only noticeable in contrast to the subtle tones used throughout the rest of the book.
  • The ad in the back for Transformers: Generation 1 Volume 2 TPB that reads "a long out-of-print story" (2004, it came out) and "Showcasing artist extraordinaire Pat Lee" (if you like inflatable Transformers.)
That's how much I have to root around for things to be critical of. Great art, a story that has my curiosity, and the only downside being that I'm not accustomed to reading comics as single issues so much these days.

Character Development

When transformed, Magmatron splits into three beast modes and fractures his speech through all of them. This may be for dramatic effect or a limitation. He dismisses his "Decepticon forefathers" as having left the Predacons squabbling for crumbs tossed them by the Maximals, and the Predacon leadership for failing to pay more than lip-service to a rebellion.

Razorbeast acknowledges very casually that his superiors will disown him if his role as a double-agent is discovered. He apparently has only learned recently he is there to activate the pods — or has been watched in the period before they leave Cybertron — as no indication is given that he was able to report back to Lio Convoy with the specifics of Magmatron's plan. He remains calm during a dangerous infiltration.

Lio Convoy is a fairly standard Prime or leader analogue.

Magmatron's troops have been briefed on his agenda separate to the given mission, or at least don't express surprise when he mentions they won't be engaging Megatron II. They act efficiently tracking the pods but aren't given much defining dialogue at this stage.

Other Details

By the period referenced in Beast Wars time travel is apparently quite straightforward, although there may be rules governing its use or it may simply be a possible side-effect of advanced interstellar drives.

Magmatron compares the Predacons with starving scraplets, a reference to Marvel US Transformers comics, in which scraplets were a plague of robotic micro-organisms infecting and eating larger mechanical lifeforms.

Ravage is addressed as 'Tripredacus Agent', the name of his toy in the US Beast Wars toyline (since Hasbro had lost the necessary trademark for 'Ravage' in the years following the original Transformers series.)

The name of the ceasefire governing the Transformers is the Pax Cybertronia, as per the Beast Wars show. It established the end of the Great War between the Autobots and Decepticons, and is the statute under which Megatron II is to be arrested and held as a war criminal.

The unnamed characters on Cybertron are mostly sourced from the Japanese cel animated Beast Wars extension shows, here with Cybertronian modes. Notables include Lio Convoy, Big Convoy and possibly Heinlad, though those may not be their names in this continuity.

Razorbeast is able to emit a signal 'heard' by Transformers in a wide radius, including some underwater. Optimus Minor, one of the protoforms brought on-line, is eating a banana when Razorbeast's signal goes out. It's therefore implied that a fair measure of time passes between activation and the protoforms becoming active.

There's a preview of The Transformers #2 in the back, featuring the current Infilitration storyline. There are also preview art pieces for the next Beast Wars issue, a letters page (shared with TF #2 as this is the first issue) and a gallery of the covers available for this issue.

Quotes of Note

Lio Convoy: "Understand, our unit doesn't exist. This discussion never took place. Your mission is not sanctioned by the Maximal Imperium. If you're discovered, you'll be cut loose, disavowed. Officially, hostilities are over, finished. Maximal-Predacon, we're one big happy family. But we know different."

Magmatron: "I say... unleash- the- Beast Wars!"

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