When the long-departed publisher Dreamwave re-kindled interest in comic adaptations of ’80s toys and cartoons almost a decade ago, few would have predicted it would lead to this: IDW’s “Battle Beasts” #1 by writer Bobby Curnow and artist Valerio Schiti.
It’s fair to say that remaining faithful to the source material isn’t likely to be too much of a concern to the creative team here — after all, the audience appears to be virtually nil. I vaguely remember owning some Battle Beasts, but I don’t recall any comic or TV series associated with it in the way that I remember “Transformers” as the ’80s equivalent of a multi-platform media assault. If this story is in any way based on established lore, it’s still new to me.
What the creative team delivers is a completely by-the-numbers interpretation of the property, which pits intelligent mutant animals with weapons against one another in combinations that, at least right now, have absolutely no rhyme or reason to them. The token human interest is provided by Zooey Deschanel stand-in Bliss Reynolds, who has just performed a feat of linguistic impossibility and in become the target of extra-terrestrial ire. Fighting ensues.
In fact, there’s a lot of fighting in this issue. You can at least honestly say that the creators have taken the name “Battle Beasts” to heart. If you ever wanted to see anthropomorphic animals have the kind of fights that are slightly too violent to fit in a family film (but not violent enough to interest any fans of that material) then this is, admittedly, the place to come.
As far as comics go, it really does feel like nothing more than a terribly-judged nostalgia cash-in. Curnow’s writing is competent, though quite tangibly disinterested. Schiti’s art is, by contrast, utterly wasted on the material, and the scenes following Bliss prior to the alien attack are by far the best in the book. Sadly, once the issue is over, the question you can’t help asking is “Who was asking for this and why did anyone listen?” There’s nothing inherently worth saving in the “Battle Beasts” concept and certainly no hook here that doesn’t rely on either empathising with a talking walrus or projecting onto a teenage girl. Neither situation is desirable for anyone old enough to have recognised the phrase “Battle Beasts”.
In short, it’s a bland and inoffensive attempt at turning toys into a story — but is it worth a read for anyone who wasn’t a massive “Battle Beasts” fan? No. Not at all.