Transformers: Beast Wars was a flagship point in the Transformers franchise, and was a starting point for a whole new generation of fans that ignited their love for the fandom. 25 years later, fans get an Ultimate-style re-imagination of Beast Wars with a brand-new series by Erik Burnham and Josh Burcham launching this Wednesday with Transformers: Beast Wars #1.
"Beast Wars was a wonderful and weird pivot from the Transformers setup to which I was first introduced. Big personalities, unexpected twists, and actual stakes all popped up regularly on the show, and those are tools that I enjoy using to build new stories," Burcham said back in October. "Best of all, the enthusiasm from everyone involved in this project has been so high that I'm feeling constantly inspired!"
Newsarama chatted with Burnham about the new series, the Maximals involved, how he was able to create new Transformers, and why he thinks Beast Wars has lasted so long in the fans' minds.
Newsarama: Erik, with Transformers: Beast Wars #1 we're sort of celebrating 25 years of Beast Wars. What do you remember growing up with the show? Were you a fan initially or did it take some time to warm up to as it was such a departure at the time?
Erik Burnham: The funny thing is, I wasn't quite there when it first came out! At the time, I was living out in the middle of nowhere; there weren't a lot of TV channels available and cable didn't extend to the area...Though at least I had the internet! So I was aware of Beast Wars as a concept, but hadn't seen it at all until recently.
In the most comedic possible fashion, I was dealing with some insomnia and surfing around, looking for something to watch - and found Beast Wars that way. I started watching and got a kick out of what I saw. The next day I was talking to my editor Tom Waltz and the show came up. "Funny you should mention that," he says, and then invites me to pitch for the new series. It's the kind of coincidence you wouldn't put into fiction.
Nrama: So where in the timeline does this take place? Are we still about 500 years before Generation One?
Burnham: That's the fun thing. It could be. It doesn't have to be. We haven't made plain the whens or the wheres of it all yet because the big twist that the show used (this all happening on a prehistoric Earth) may or may not be something we ultimately follow.
Hasbro has been open to making changes — in fact that was a key thing they wanted — so long as they liked the new ideas as much as the old.
… So we'll see. It'll keep the longtime fans guessing, if nothing else!
Nrama: For those that aren't familiar with the cartoon, who are the major players and their function in the team?
Burnham: Oh, gosh. This'll be a list. The abridged version of the in-world history: the classic Autobots and Decepticons made peace and eventually, as a race, chose to downsize their bodies to be more energy efficient. They're smaller now, by and large, and now go by Maximals and Predacons.
Some of the Predacons don't want peace; they want to be where they perceive they should be; calling the shots, conquering planets. The separatists aim for restarting the great war, and this time, winning. That's where the book starts.
As for who everyone is… let me share with you the cast list we include in each issue:
- Optimus Primal – Captain of the Axalon. One of the Maximal warrior class.
- Nyx – Ace pilot. Loves flying more than anything.
- Rattrap – Data Analyst/Scrounger. Thinks he should be in charge. Of what, well, he's not picky.
- Cheetor – A former athlete that wanted to see what was in the wider universe and joined the Axalon's crew.
- Rhinox – Lead Scientist. As smart as he is tough (and he's very, very tough.)
- Megatron – Commander. Wants to overthrow the Maximals and Predacons governing Cybertron. Can be impulsive.
- Tarantulas – Mad scientist. Lover of chaos. Possibly a cannibal.
- Scorponok – True-Blue Predacon believer. He is all-in for the glory of the cause of Predacon supremacy.
- Waspinator – Good pilot, but also kind of unlucky.
- Terrorsaur – A bully, and possibly even more cruel than Megatron himself. No one really likes him, but he's handy in a fight.
- Skold – A tank of a fighter, Skold is looking for acceptance and thinks the separatists will provide it. She's loyal to Megatron.
- Dinobot – A pure warrior that has been convinced that the Maximal/Predacon dynamic needs to be shaken up. In the show, folks know he starts as a Predacon before switching sides.
Nrama: Will this series have any connection to the original Beast Wars comic from 2006?
Burnham: It will not! The idea here was, at first, to just do exactly what the show did — but pad it out more, give more of a look into things. That was where we started. And then Hasbro & IDW decided, instead, to go for something different.
The word thrown out was 'Ultimate,' like Marvel's old Ultimate line. We start in a familiar place, with tiny changes. But a tiny change can change the path of a story—leading to other changes and a wholly different path.
Consider Ultimate Spider-Man; it started with Peter Parker getting bit and becoming a hero, just like the original comics… and it expanded the origin story to more than 10 times the page length of the original. And changes began. Eventually, there was the ultimate (pun intended) change when Peter died and we got a whole new Spidey in Miles Morales.
That's what we aim to do here. Start with the familiar, make tiny changes, and then see where it takes us.
In addition, IDW editor David Mariotte sent me back a revision and put it to me like this "make it more you." So some of my own quirks have snuck in as well.
Nrama: This was teased back in May of last year when Chris Ryall and John Barber announced there was a new Beast Wars series in development and finally back in October, IDW officially announced it. When were you brought on board to write this?
Burnham: I was initially asked to submit a pitch in February 2020. In fact, I was asked on my birthday if I wanted to take a shot; that may be why I remember the specifics.
Nrama: Having worked on numerous Hasbro licenses, how hands-on are they for something like Beast Wars?
Burnham: They've given me a lot of freedom. I was told that it needed to start the same way we're all familiar with, with the same bots we know, with time travel and a golden disk MacGuffin.
Every other detail has been up for discussion. Sometimes we get a yes, sometimes we get a no, sometimes we get a 'not right now' or a 'push the idea further.' Any notes from Hasbro have only served to make things stronger, which is everybody's goal. (I'll say the same thing about the editorial trio of David Mariotte, Riley Farmer, and Tom Waltz while we're on the subject—all their notes and ideas have been to the betterment of the story.)
Nrama: You're working with artist Josh Burcham, who has a ton of Transformers experience including a personal favorite of Transformers: Sins of the Wreckers, so do you feel like he also knows these characters well? What was the collaboration process like for this?
Burnham: He knows them very well. As I recall, this was his introduction to TF fandom; he's a hardcore, so he'll know them better than me. And so does David Mariotte; when and if I get something wrong, they gently correct me.
A funny moment came after the book was announced and I saw a tweet that "Josh is doing a new Beast Wars book with some writer no one has ever heard of!" I got a good laugh out of that, because is there anything more appropriate to laser-focused fandom than not knowing who a creator is until they've done work on a thing you love?
I say that only so I can talk about the affection I've seen from fans for Josh. They're excited for him, they're rooting for him, and they can't wait to see what he does with the book — and I love seeing that kind of enthusiasm before the first issue hits. I know Josh is gonna make them all proud... he's getting better with every page.
And the collaboration has been smooth. A lot of the work of building out stories was done before Josh came on board (not unusual for a licensed project) but once he was picked as the artist, he was quick to make things his own with suggestions and details added to the pages that enhance things.
And remember what I was saying about enthusiasm? Josh has that, too. And it shows in the work.
Nrama: Are you going to be able to create any new Transformers for Beast Wars? Maybe new villains?
Burnham: Yes. In fact, I asked that straight out — could new characters be created? I was thinking down the line! I never expected to start the series out with two new characters when I asked that.
New Maximal Nyx and new Predacon Skold came about partly because there's no reason to wait until Blackarachnia shows up to have some fembots in the mix. Especially not when new characters also tilt the story away from the familiar beats that would otherwise be expected.
We went with a bat for Nyx partly as a nod to the original Optimus Primal figure; the name is a Greek goddess of night, appropriate for a bat. Skold's name is taken from Scandinavian; she's an alligator snapping turtle (specifically because the alligator snappers are terrifying). 'Skoldpadda' is Norwegian for turtle; 'skold' means shield. It fits for a turtle-former and it sounded right.
As a bonus, I had one great-grandparent each from both Greece and Norway so these names are the most subtle tip of the cap possible.
Nrama: What's going to be the story with Beast Wars this time around?
Burnham: Short version? Fights between robots that turn into animals.
Longer version? The first six will be an expanded version of the Beast Wars pilot; after that, we have some stories the editor corps chose from about a dozen or more stories that were in my initial pitch document. Spoilers: Blackarania will definitely be showing up in the second arc.
Are there twists? Maybe a few surprises? For sure. I'm being necessarily vague, I know. Overall, look for the same mix of humor, adventure, and drama that the original show set its sights on.
Nrama: After 25 years, Beast Wars is still something Transformers fans hold really dear, why do think that is?
Burnham: Beast Wars was a big swing. It did something different with the high concept of the franchise, while also being a part of it. There were surprises. There were big moments, and the show worked hard to win over the skeptics and take their places in the TF Universe. That doesn't always happen.
And who doesn't love it when an underdog pulls off the upset?
Transformers: Beast Wars #1 goes on sale February 3 in comic book stores AND on digital platforms. Check out Newsarama's list of the best digital comics readers for Android and iOS devices.