Rob's Pile of Transformers: Manic Ramblings


Manic Ramblings and Delirious Ranting
re: Standing Up for Beast Wars

Found this on my hard drive recently.  I wrote it a while back during
a debate that was triggered when someone said that BW "don't get no
respect", and someone else said "and that's how it should be"... 

***********************************

Ironic that I, one of the more active debaters on
alt.toys.transformers.classic.moderated, should find myself 
having to do this.  Ah well...

There are two issues at stake in the current debate: is BW really
"Transformers" (and therefore worthy as a follow-up to G1), and is it 
a good show (and therefore deserving of "respect", which the original 
post bemoaned the lack of)?  The answer to the first question is, in 
a sense, debatable; "Transformers" implies many things to many 
people.  But the answer to the second is undoubtably "yes".  BW is a 
friggin' great story, even if it doesn't stick to what you consider 
"Transformers".

To really answer that first question, you have to define what makes
something "Transformers".  On the surface, it's pretty simple: 
stories about shape-changing robots from Cybertron, based on Hasbro 
toys.  But for many fans there's a lot more to it than that, and 
legitimately so considering all the changes and incarnations it's
been through. 

Raksha wrote something along the lines of, "a balance of believable
characters on both sides is what made G1.  BW doesn't have that, so
it's not Transformers."  This last point is where her argument falls
apart. It's perfectly reasonable to say that these are the things
that define what "Transformers" is for *you* -- but to claim that those 
eelement are what it is, *period*, for all fans, is a mistake.

As far as I can tell, the "single" thing that has allowed 
Transformers to survive this long is _diversity_.  Some people 
embrace the whole thing: comics, cartoon, toys, everything.  Others 
favor one aspect over the others, even to the point of not even 
bothering with, say, the comic or the show.  Different elements 
define what Transformers is _for_them_; however, when it comes down 
to saying what it is for _everybody_, about the only non-contestable 
fact is that they're sentient transforming robots from Cybertron 
based on toys from Hasbro.  Beyond that... a LOT of factors
have kept TFs going this long, and diversity of characters and 
factions is only one of them.  

I grant that the characters are a very important factor in making TFs 
what it is.  Certainly they're one of the biggest factors for me.  
But they're not the only one.  Room for speculation is another factor 
-- it's very easy to work fanfic into the G1 continuity.  For me a 
defining aspect of Transformers is *potential*, potential for star-
spanning, epic adventures in which ordinary characters find 
themselves in extraordinary circumstances -- there are countless 
untold stories in the TF universe, some hinted at by the canon 
stories, others completely up to the imagination.  After the
comics, BW comes closest to tapping that potential..  For other fans
Transformers means intrigue, or warfare, or high technology, or 
aliens, or romance, or cool toys, or... need I go on?

Any TF television show is most likely going to be some form of 
continuation of the cartoon, since they're in the same medium; 
obviously a new show isn't directly part of the comics universe, 
which is the continuity I take as "most canon".  Is any new show 
therefore "not Transformers"?  Hardly.  BW isn't a continuation of 
the G1 comic, the thing that most embodies Transformers -- for *me*. 
But it's still Tranformers.  The G2 comic took some aspects of the G1 
comic and killed them... yet it was still Transformers.  Maybe not 
quite *as* Transformers as the G1 comic had been for me... but still 
Tranformers.  And in the very act of changing what had come before, 
it *expanded* the scope of what Transformers is.

I can empathize with the people who feel negatively regarding BW as a
follow-up to the G1 cartoon.  I felt somewhat the same about the G2 comic;
it hit me that things would never really be the same again.  But I took G2
for what it was -- something new, something different -- and soon realized
there were a lot of good aspects to it, in spite of some things I didn't
like.  And, just because the new book was different, that didn't mean it
could take away what had come before.

Is BW a worth successor to G1?  IMO yes.  But even if you feel
differently, remember... it's NOT an attempt to continue the same
series... just the same storyline.  And I agree very strongly with someone
else's claim that BW is perhaps the closest TFs have come to being a
serious attempt at sci-fi.  Yes, it's still kid vid fare -- it has to be,
by corporate design.  But there's something there for us, too -- now so
more than ever before.

BW detractors describe the show's references to the original story as
"pouring salt in the wound".  I disagree, on the basis that NOWHERE has BW
irrefutably claimed to be a continuation of the cartoon story.  Personally
I choose to believe that it is... but there's plenty of room for those who
feel otherwise.  It can easily be seen as a semi-parallel universe, or
even as a continuation of the comics rather than the cartoon.  [As an
aside, I believe that if BW had NO references to the original show,
there'd be a spate of people complaining that it's "not Transformers" for
that very reason.]  Furthermore, even if BW *did* establish itself
irrefutably as a continuation of the G1 cartoon, my feeling is that the
references to the old series have been handled very well -- far better
than we have any right to expect, IMO.  Starscream was 100% in character.
Ravage was altered and expanded upon in a very logical fashion, and came
across as a far stronger character than he ever did in G1.  I strongly
feel that any percieved "flaws" in these and the various other G1
references are no greater than the G1 show's own lack of internal consistency.

As for the characterization of the Predacons: Megatron and his group 
are outcasts -- rouges, criminals, malcontents, rebels.  I know, I 
know -- the writers *could* have made them regular Preds, and perhaps 
they *do* use this as a catch-all for their self-destructive 
behavior.  But BW is also telling a larger story, and the very fact 
that the Preds we see on-screen are rouges hints that the main 
Predacon faction is a dangerous foe.  Would BW be a better show if 
the Preds were written more respectably?  Yes.  Is it a bad show 
because they're not?  No.

BW has given us the longest on-going plot line since the G1 comic.  It has
some of the most amazing graphic images ever made for Transformers.  It
has given us some of the most memorable character interactions in all the
TF mythos.  And many of the characters themselves -- a majority, in fact
-- are well-developed and explored.  Optimus Primal, Megatron, Rhinox,
Tarantulus, Rattrap, Blackarachnia, Tigatron, Inferno -- all these have
earned their place in Transfandom's pantheon of memorable characters.  
You may not like some or any of them in a personal sense.  But a lot of
people, myself included, do.  More importantly, I maintain that you don't
have to like a character personally to get a good story out of them.  I
don't just follow a story to see saintly-perfect idols to worship; I look
for intriguing tales, different viewpoints, insight into life, humor,
irony, all kinds of stuff.  My favorite example is Starscream; I mean, IMO
the guy's a total jerk, yet I really enjoy sitting back to watch him make
trouble for everyone.  No, I don't look up to him.  No, I don't emulate
his ideals.  No, I wouldn't want to meet him in real life.  But he's 
a lot of fun to watch as he causes trouble and wreaks havoc on-screen.

Dinobot is another terrific example.  Yes, he betrayed his former
comrades, and maybe that makes him someone you wouldn't want to team up
with in real life.  But does it make the story bad?  Not in the least.  In
many respects, having characters like Dinobot makes a story more
interesting.  And I still maintain that by the choices he had to make, and
his back-and-forth attitude about those choices, Dinobot is perhaps the
most real and empathic character ever to come out of the TF mythos.  You
might not *want* to be like him... but in some respects we all are.
Having to make hard decisions about what you're going to believe, and
where you're going to stand on an issue, is something that every person
must deal with -- it's part of being human.  And in real life, there are
no easy answers, no clearly divided "yes or no" questions, no
diametrically opposed factions to which you clearly do or don't belong.
Unlike 99% of Transformer characters, Dinobot was not painted as
black-or-white one-side-or-the-other.  He changed his mind -- more than
once.  He weighed the evidence, his loyalties, his beliefs... and wasn't
sure what to do.  In real life -- and in great literature -- it happens
all the time; it's one of the classic delimas.  In Transformers it's been
pretty rare.  And it was Beast Wars that brought it to us.

In short, BW is a good story.  Some people feel it's bad, and made 
worse by claiming to be part of the G1 cartoon universe.  I 
disagree.  There's room to leave it out of the past TF stories, if 
you feel it doesn't pay appriate homage to them.  For the rest of us, 
there's plenty of ways it ties in.  I'm happy to see it carrying the 
Transformers multiverse forward into new directions, and in the 
process creating even more untold tales for us to speculate on.  
Yeah, it's not G1.  Nothing but G1 ever could be. It's BW, and by 
this point in the game that in itself is a good thing to me.


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