IDW Publishing: Beast Wars "The Ascending" #1 Review
Cover Price: $3.99 (US)
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Publication Date: September 2007
Written by: Simon Furman
Art by: Don Figueroa
Colors by: Mark Bristow
Color assist by: Andrew Elder and Jeong Joo Park
Letters by: Robbie Robbins
Edits by: Chris Ryall & Dan Taylor
In a distant future, Cybertron is being torn apart. Transformers destroy each other regardless of affiliation and a chronally displaced Magmatron can only watch as his homeworld is destroyed by chaos and eventually, the Dark God Unicron himself! Now able to shift forward and back in time, Magmatron finds himself in a prison that he cannot escape, and all he can do is retreat to less unpleasant times such as the past!
Earth, circa 70,000 years ago:
Razorbeast is not happy. He has lost faith that Lioconvoy and the pack are coming to the rescue. Prowl and Wolfang both try to counsel him, telling him that they could still be coming, and that even if they didn't, the Maximals had won - preventing Magmatron's plan of attacking Cybertron with a new army of Predacons.
Nearby, Manterror, Retrax and Snapper are preparing to launch the first phase of an attack, but they are quickly discovered by Grimlock! He makes short work of Snapper and Manterror, but Retrax manages to bounce away and activate a series of explosives he had planted underground. The resulting explosions disorient the Maximals as the Predacons all charge into battle! The Maximals quickly counterattack, but they realize very soon that something is different. By using all their forces, the Predacons are showing a desperation they haven't shown in previous attacks - and worse, Ravage is not leading the charge!
Inside the Maximal base, Ravage sneaks around, believing he has found the Chronal Phase Facilitators but when he reaches for them, he finds they are only holograms! Razorbeast approaches him and the two argue, with Ravage explaining that the Beast Wars are over, and Primal and his crew are preparing to leave Earth. His plan is to free Megatron and destroy the Maximals, but Snarl suddenly appears and bites his tail. A swift kick by Razorbeast sends Ravage crashing into a wall, knocking him unconscious.
This entire spectacle has had an observer: Magmatron! Realizing that his hated enemy may in fact be his (and Cybertron's) best hope, he goes back in time to the moment the Maximals sent a signal to Cybertron. He manages to boost the signal and it reaches Cybertron instead of degrading as it had originally. Inside the Pack's base, Mach Kick picks up the signal as Apache, longarm and Stampy listen on. They immediately alert Lioconvoy and they prepare to leave in a Transwarp Shuttle to help Razorbeast.
Elsewhere on Cybertron, Drancron, Elephaorca and Rartorata approach a giant tank brimming with green energy. It is the Angolmois energy and they have come to feed more of it to their lord and master: Shokaract!
Beast Wars Transformers was a series based largely on action blended with drama. There are some wonderful character moments in the show that were carried out expertly by the writers and animators. Some complained the last mini-series "The Gathering" was so overrun with introductions and cosmic goings on that it lost a bit of that, and to a degree I can see where people are coming from with that. With "The Ascending", we have been introduced to a lot of the characters already, allowing us to move on and focus on the story at hand. As such, there are a lot more "character moments" in this issue than in the first issue of "The Gathering" and it makes for a great read.
The first character that stands out the most is Magmatron. While "The Gathering" portrayed him as a power hungry Predacon General, it would seem moving backwards and forwards in time has calmed him down to a large degree. In a way, this pragmatic Magmatron is very much the one you would expect to have led a team of Dinobots in another reality (during the Beast Machines run). Plus, Magmatron was never portrayed as a psychopath in the animated Beast Wars Neo series. When push came to shove, he did what was right for Cybertron over his own safety. This Magmatron seems to follow along those lines by putting aside his quest for personal vengeance to save the very world he is trying to conquer. I'm not saying he's a good guy, but I'm saying he's a bad guy whose motivations go beyond "Me take over planet and smash Maximals!"
In terms of character moments, I'm also really enjoying the interaction between smaller groups of characters. Razorbeast's conversation with Wolfang and Prowl was very cool. It was short and not particularly exciting, but what I enjoyed was the way Wolfang and Prowl were serving as advisors to Razorbeast. Also, something about Prowl remaining in owl mode appeals to me, as if emphasizing the old "wise owl" image. The other character moment is between the three Predacons Snapper, Retrax and Manterror. It's funny seeing poor Snapper being squashed, and Manterror's comment about Retrax's bravery directly references his personality (to be seen in an upcoming issue of the Beast Wars Sourcebooks). Retrax's network of tunnels is also shown here, something that is also referenced in his profile.
It's a staple of Simon Furman's style to have a very large B story going on while a smaller A story happens. What we usually don't get however is a character to take us through both stories objectively. In this sense, issue #1 of "The Ascending" is quite different than the average Transformers tale. Magmatron is the thread that connects the various stories going on, but I did find it interesting that he could manipulate chronal energies (as evidenced by him helping the transmission reach Cybertron). I'm almost curious how horrified he might have been to see what Megatron did to Cybertron in Beast Machines. There's literally a world of story possibilities here, though I imagine keeping Cybertron from being eaten takes precedence above all else!
I think I'll skip my usual gushing about Don Figueroa's artwork and just touch on some of my favorite bits. The first thing that I love (and Don is well known for) is his redesign of characters in alternate forms. In the first page alone we get to see the non-beast robot modes of Saberback, Killerpunch and what appears to be a jet type mode for Dirgegun. I also love his redesigns of Longrack and Stampy. Stampy looks like he becomes some type of fast hover vehicle (maybe even a jet) while Longrack's form is based on the "Cybertron" retool of Armada Hoist. What I really like about Longrack's form is that he didn't just draw the Cybertron toy, he tweaked it a bit to make him more streamlined and added his dagger to his left arm to boot. Apache's form is also really neat looking, especially with those large forearms, indicating the beast mode he once had (and most likely will again). Lastly, I was pleasantly surprised to see even the three Blendtrons have Cybertronian forms. I had assumed they would appear in their creepy beast forms right off the bat, but here we see them as pure mechanical Cybertronians along with Shokaract! All a nice treat.
On the other side of the equation, I'm really digging Don's take on the beast forms. His drawing of Retrax in particular really creeped me out at first, but as soon as Manterror taps him on the head he looks comical. I love that his art is so flexible in that regard. I'm also really fond of Retrax's "balled up" form. it's always n eat to see a toy feature in action!
Special mention should be made of one Predacon appearing that I didn't expect: Manta Ray! This shows how even as basic of a toy as the McDonalds toys can look great in the hands of a great artist. Manta Ray looks great here and I like the way the back piece is more of a cape in robot mode.
I noticed that the colors in this issue were a lot more bright than most IDW comics. I'm guessing with the need for three colorists, there may have been a bit of a rush to get this book out. I can't help but wonder if some of the ultra bright colors may have washed out some of Don's detail work on the pencils and inks. Detail levels really vary a lot. On the first page, there is a ton of detail with robot parts splintering, breaking etc. However, in the scene where the Predacon fliers charge at the Maximals, some of the more bumpy parts of Injector seem almost washed out. I may just be imagining this, but overall the colors look great - almost like a 2D cartoon. It looks good, but the disparity between certain pages is a bit odd.
A bang up first issue (in more ways than one) that gives us a bit of everything from action to character moments to a big heaping spoon of foreshadowing. Pick this up if you're into Beast Wars, it's a fun read!