Ah, Beast Wars. The epic Transformers story where Optimus Prime and his newly upgraded Maximal soldiers took on Megatron and his new gang of mutated Predacons...
Wait, you don't exactly remember Beast Wars going that way? Well your right, the Beast Wars you likely remember was about the future generation of Transformers fighting a battle on pre-historic Earth ala time travel. Optimus Primal was not Optimus Prime, just somebody with a similar name (or descendant, depending on which script writer you ask) who commanded a small crew of Maximals (the descendants of the original Autobots) and Megatron was a guy who named himself after the original Megatron (and depending on how you look at the facts in the fiction, the original Megatron could have named himself after the BW Megatron, time travel stories are fun in that round about confusing way) and commanded a small crew of Predacons.
However, the Beast Wars toy line was launched much earlier than the show was conceived fully. At the initial time, the story on the back of Beast Wars toy packages and in the mini-comic (more on that in just a second) told of a Beast Wars that happened shortly after Generation 2 involving the original Prime and Megatron. After the show was launched and the full storyline was conceived, the toy packaging began to reflect the new storyline and quickly act like the old set up never happened.
But for the sake of fun, let's look back at that short time period when Beast Wars was in its early stages and Optimus was just dressed up like Batman and how I came to love it.
Beast Wars (BW from here on out) was launched with a two pack of Optimus Primal vs. Megatron with a mini-comic to tell the story. Primal turned into a bat, while Megatron turned in a crocodile. Later after the storyline change, in the IDW BW profile books, these forms would be explained as possible alt modes that each robots computer suggested for them as they scanned a beast mode. However here they were presented as the new forms of our hero and villain.
The story told us (in not the greatest fashion, even as toy pack in comics go) that the Maximals were a new team of genetically altered robots that came to earth to prevent Megatron and his new team of mutated robots from shenanigans on Earth. Basically, Optimus has a spiffy new look and crew and so does Megatron... BEAST WARS!
Toys soon followed as well as a Happy Meal promotion. To be honest the Happy Meal promotion is what initially sold me on the line. I've been a life long Transformers fan (they came out as I was in kindergarten) and the initial stages of BW confused me a bit. At the time I was more fiction focused in my fan-ish form of dedication (with the occasional toy purchased for good measure), and while the BW toys I saw looked neat. I was pretty confused.
Who were the Maximals? Why is Megatron leading the Predacons instead of the Decepticons? Why are the Predacons suddenly more than just a combiner team? Why is he called Optimus Primal instead of Optimus Prime? Wait... is this some new fangled way to make my Transformers EXTREME DOOD? (I was pretty cynical of such marketing back then)
For a moment I was concerned that they were mixing Jurassic Park with my Transformers. I may like peanut butter in my chocolate, but I wasn't sure if I was going to like this mixture. However that concern didn't really last long as there was always animals in TF before and these kind of looked like Pretenders to me (I liked Pretenders, ok). At the time I didn't have internet at home yet, and what I could use of it at school wasn't exactly great for TF news. Most I got was a "yeah, their cool" or a "NERD PLAYING WITH HIS TOYS" on the bulletin system on the school network. The mid nineties were not so friendly for us with geeky tendencies in the suburbs of Atlanta.
No seriously, geeky kids have it MADE these days.
But yeah, it initially took me a bit to warm up to these new Transformers. It also didn't hurt that I was a senior in High School at the time and what little money I earned from my part time job at McDonalds went mostly to gas and insurance for my car. So not really being able to buy said robots at the time also helped with that. I'm pretty sure now if I would have bought a toy instead of some stuff for school, I would have been hooked on BW at first glance.
So I'm working at my crummy part time job at McDonalds one evening and I notice the Happy Meal poster on the wall (they had these so you knew what to put in the boxes and something about it incase a parent asked) was swapped out and there was BW toys on it. I had been taking home Happy Meal toys regularly anyway (the Spider-Man one was pretty darn neat huh?) and now was the time for me to get some of these new TF toys and see what I think of them.
Also the management wouldn't let me have any of the display stuff either that they were just going to throw away. The management at my McDonalds was dicks.
So I bring home some of the toys (really wish I'd have taken some of the boxes too, they were cool) and man... these guys were great! The Panther guy looked a whole lot like Ravage (turns out they used this toy as the model for Ravage in a Japanese BW manga), this Beetle Guy is really cool, these Rhino and Manta Ray guys... sure are... a little sucky... but I still like them, and this lion head guy for the pre school kids was nifty in a desk toy kind of way.
Was BW not so bad after all? I had managed to buy some of the toys and sure enough these new EXTREME DOOD Transformers were pretty darn cool.
Then the show came out... whoa... dude.
So yeah, after the show came out a story was presented that I just fell for. I loved the show and loved the toys. To this day BW still reigns in high as my favorite era of the Transformers 25+ years. When random BW characters would pop up in the Transformers Universe toy line, I'd stalk stores to get them. When the Cybertron line featured a Jungle planet crew I jumped for joy, hoping it would be more BW (seriously, I jumped in the air and made giggling noises... it's disturbing, I know) When 2006 ushered in several BW toys and a BW themed BotCon exclusive set... I will reframe, it gets scary to explain how excited a grown man can get over playthings.
Even in this day of Michael Bays Transformers, there is the occasional BW nod and I am grateful. You know, I'm not sure if it's just nostalgia for a fun time in my life, or pure appreciation for Beast Wars in general (or maybe both) that makes me love it so still. But one thing is certain, that era of Transformers was EXTREME DOOD!
Rob is a Transformers fan for over 25 years (what a dork) and a staff member at www.tfradio.net, home of Radio Free Cybertron, the oldest Transformers podcast available (existing at a time before the term podcast and still broadcasting weekly). You can hear his Transformers views every week on the show or in his blog on the site.