Comic Books: "Beast Wars Transformers": Optimus Primal versus Megatron! review
Optimus Primal versus Megatron!
In 1996 "Beast Wars Transformers" launched with the toys preceding the television show. Whether or not you enjoyed "Beast Wars", it is pretty universally agreed that this series was a significant departure from the purely robotic roots of "Generation One". Instead, Transformers now had bio-matter making up part of their bodies and everyone transformed into beasts ,not just a sub-group or two. To give fans some type of fiction to hold them over until the cartoon debuted Kenner released a two pack of figures with an introductory comic book that also included product images. The two figures included with this pack were a bat version of Optimus Primal (known by some fans as "Batimus") and crocodile version of Megatron (known to some fans as "Megacroc"). Appropriately the mini-comic book was titled "Optimus Primal versus Megatron!"
With 2016 being the 20th Anniversary of "Beast Wars" I thought it would be fun to revisit this comic book and include scans for your viewing pleasure. Since this comic was developed before the television show, it remains as an interesting artifact of "Beast Wars" history, representing a time unaffected by the TV show that would air months later. This review will be broken up by pages.
The cover is wonderfully dramatic, representing the style of comics in the 90's well. Everything was "bigger and more extreme" back then and Optimus' wide sword along with Megatron's cannon really help sell the "big action" theme of the comic. This cover also features the "Beast Wars" part of the logo prominently, making "Transformers" almost a sub-header, declaring the boldness of the line right in its logo. This wasn't your daddy's Transformers series, this was something all new! This cover also shows the (presumed) name of the comic book "Optimus Primal versus Megatron!. This cover also helps tear the band aid off any wound created by this rather dramatic change in what Transformers are and how they look. Both Optimus and Megatron look almost like beasts wearing robotic armor and definitely not like their blocky, angular and mechanical looking G1 namesakes.
This is a great introduction. It is mysterious and dark, setting a tone that this is not a bright and happy 80's cartoon series. Also note how the animals are all drawn like organic creatures with no hint of robot parts on them at all. Even the "Pretender Beasts" from G1 had big weapons mounted on them that gave away their true nature. This is also one of the few appearances of the "Bat Optimus Primal" figure in a story. Fun fact: the writers of the TV show originally considered making Optimus Primal a quad-former on the cartoon so he would be a bat/robot and gorilla/robot but this was deemed too expensive to do.
There's a lot happening very quickly in these two pages. First we now see the "bat" is more than meets the eye! While he calls them "Optical Sensors", this is not too far from the term "Optic Sensors" which was frequently used on the G1 cartoon to refer to the eyes of a Transformers character. This also tells us that the beast modes of these Transformers are so effective at hiding their true nature even Optimus' (presumably advanced) sensors can't figure it out. When he is attacked by Megatron it is with his tail, a very savage and "beast" like attack. This hints at the more visceral action to be seen in future "Beast Wars" adventures as the Transformers fight in beast form. Once Megatron transforms we get to see his true nature as a robot in disguise. Note the deliberate call out to a "Genetics Lab" telling us that some type of scifi engineering has been going on with the Transformers. Also note Megatron is holding his tail cannon on the same side that G1 Megatron had his Fusion Cannon, another (perhaps coincidental) callback to G1.
Ah the splash page, a mainstay of 90's comic books. There always had to be big poster-worthy shots in comics and it is fun to see one here. There's a lot happening here so let's break it down:
- Note the banner with the titles "Heroic Maximals" and "Evil Predacons". These descriptors are the same as those used in G1 for the Autobots and Decepticons respectively.
- There's lots of talk of genetic engineering and fusing organic material with Transformers technology. Whether it is this comic or the TV show, this was a fundamental element of the "Beast Wars" mythos extending even into the "Beast Machines" sequel series.
- If you look at Cheetor's weapons, they are the ones that have been shown in catalog photos which represent the prototype of the figure. The final weapons that came with the mass release figure look different.
- Tarantulas uses the colors of the prototype figure with his main color being orange.
- Interestingly Tarantulas looks like his upper robot body is just springing up from the beast mode instead of a full transformation like Cheetor or Razorbeast.
With victory drawing close for the Maximals Megatron destroys his lab in a dramatic scene. As he retreats, he does a couple things that are very much "branding" based. First he is the one to declare the term "Beast Wars" (as opposed to the animated series where Optimus Primal seems to have coined the phrase). He also declares that he and the Predacons will be back "...in any form, at any time!" which is an interesting statement. In part it declares that the "Beast Wars" toy line will have a very diverse assortment of beast modes (which it did) and it hints that the same characters could come back in multiple forms (which they did).
With the comic over, the following pages were dedicated to being a catalog introducing the toy line. This page gives us a very clear look at both the Predacon and Maximal symbols. For the most part the figures shown resemble their mass release versions but there are some differences.
- Terrorsaur's head appears red here as opposed to the blue of the final release.
- Razorbeast's weapon barrels are brown instead of the beige of the mass release.
- Tarantulas is shown in his translucent orange and black colors.
- Dinobot's deco has much wider lines on him in a different pattern than the toy that made it to the mass market.
- Cheetor mostly looks the same but his weapons are different. His tail weapon has a handle on the tail with a small barrel at the end. The final version was reversed and the tail would actually fold back. His "gut gun" weapon looks similar but has pink painted on the entrails sculpted into the figure. The pink paint did not make it into the final version of the figure, though the sculpted entrails remained.
The back cover of the comic book gives us a rare treat: full body box art from Transformers packaging. The page focuses on the Mega Class figures. We are reminded how early in the production process this was. To the left is the box art for "Grizzly-1" which was never actually released on the mass market. Instead the figure was given a different deco (with this same art repurposed in different colors) as Polar Claw. Later fans would have a chance to own "Grizzly-1/Barbearian" as a Botcon Japan exclusive figure.
The other figure art shown is for Scorponok. Now, Scorponok did get released as part of "Beast Wars" with his name intact. However his colors were completely changed. In this illustration he is yellow with blue parts. The actual release would be blue with some black and red colors giving him a much darker appearance. While many written versions of Scorponok's name were incorrect over the years (ex: Scorpinox) this establishes that this character uses the spelling from the G1 character's name.
This comic is a fun blast from the past and it gives fans a really cool look at what was being planned before the "Beast Wars" cartoon dominated the fiction around the line. I also miss the days of these catalogs. They have largely been replaced by online images (though those are awesome in their own way). I hope you've enjoyed this look back at a unique piece of "Beast Wars" history.