I recently described IDW Publishing as “the anti-George Lucas.” It’s a loaded statement, for sure, but hear me out.
While the hyperbole surrounding what Lucas has done with the cherished Star Wars saga abounds – and there are apologists that maintain that George has every right to deal with the series as he sees fit – I think that most of us can agree that the manner in which he’s curated the franchise has been less than ideal. By skewing the fiction so as to allow Greedo to shoot first or providing a fairly convoluted character arc for young Anakin, it feels as though he has been taking away, surgically excising, portions of the story. IDW, on the other hand, has made a habit of adding to a number of big name licenses from our childhood. Apples to oranges, some might say, but an enjoyable tale from anyone’s hands is still an enjoyable tale.
From the expansive universes of G.I. Joe and Transformers to leaner but no less significant worlds of Ghostbusters and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, IDW’s writers have provided additional layers of narrative sheen to what were, at least in their earliest forms, fairly straightforward stories. By killing off and replacing the original Cobra Commander or adding an air of underlying mysticism to the Turtle’s mutation, they’ve provided an updated, more distinctly contemporary take on the properties that never seeks to undermine the legitimacy of source material.
IDW builds exciting new worlds atop cultural touchstones, but their most recent acquisition comes with a less lofty pedigree. Starting as a spin-off of the Transformers line, Battle Beasts existed for years with only minimal story stretched between loose advertising copy, a four issue comic run and a single animated crossover episode. But this year the Beasts are back with both an amazing new action figure line from Diamond Select Toys’ Art Asylum and an IDW series of their own that takes this tale in a wholly different direction.
At the helm of the latter is writer/editor Bobby Curnow. Bobby was nice enough to take some time to talk about this new direction and his own fond memories of these tiny anthropomorphized critters.
GeekDad: IDW has done some pretty amazing things with big-name properties like G.I. Joe, Dungeons & Dragons and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. What drew you to the lesser-known Battle Beasts franchise?
Curnow: I actually played with the toys when I was a kid! I had a pretty sizable collection, including the poster that showed them all that I remember staring at for hours. One of the things that attracts me to them today is the same thing that I liked as a kid. They have a pretty wide-open backstory. That lets your imagination take over, and you can fill in your own story lines. I definitely did that as a kid, and here I am as an adult doing it again! Life is weird… Anyway, when I heard that we (IDW) might be doing Battle Beasts comics, I jumped at the chance.
GeekDad: So you were you a big fan of the ’80s toy line? Which figure was your favorite?
Curnow: I was. I don’t think I had a favorite. Having looked back at them more recently, “Crusty Crab” is a favorite. Plus, “War Weasel” is one of the better names ever created, I do believe.
GeekDad: The original Battle Beasts were introduced in the Japanese Transformers: Headmasters cartoon series. Any chance we’ll see a crossover with IDW’s own Transformers comic, either independently or as part of a larger Infestation-style event?
Curnow: No plans at this point, but if the series does well anything can happen!
GeekDad: This is actually the second time the Battle Beasts have come to comics, the first being a short-lived Blackthorne Publishing book back in 1987. Did you investigate that source material before embarking on this project?
Curnow: I tried to track down the Blackthorne Publishing comics and wasn’t able to get my hands on a copy. I didn’t look very long, as I wanted to keep our version distinct and not be influenced too much. But now that I’ve got several issues under my belt, I’d love to give them a read.
GeekDad: Your book focuses on a trio of heroes: Merk, Gruntos and Vorin. Describe these characters and their roles within the narrative.
Curnow: In a few words: Vorin is the stoic leader, Merk the grumpy tactician and Gruntos is the lovable muscle. As for their goal… All of Beast society revolves around, you guessed it, battle! Fighting is a way of life for all Beasts. However, our three heroes think that there can be more to life than battle. They believe that if they stopped fighting, the Beast race could accomplish amazing things. As such, they are looking for a way to end the endless war. Each one has a unique motivation for pursuing this goal that we’ll see as the issues go on. As well as how they came to be a team!
GeekDad: In a world steeped in violence, these three are on a mission to create some semblance of peace. What is it about the fabled Dread Weapons that will enable Vorin and his crew to stop the Endless War?
Curnow: What exactly the Dread Weapons are, and how they work, is a mystery we’ll be exploring. What is known is that ALL Beasts want to get their hands on these bad boys, and they are mighty powerful.
GeekDad: Their search actually takes them to what appears to be a contemporary Earth. Whose idea was it to unleash the Battle Beasts upon our unsuspecting world?
Curnow: My original concept focused much more on Beasts off-world. However, Diamond Select Toys wanted the story to take place on Earth. And I’m extremely happy they did. The resulting story is much richer with a human presence and makes the drama much more relatable, I think. Essentially what we have is an examination of what happens when two very different societies suddenly meet. The outcome is messy!
GeekDad: What about human linguist Bliss Reynolds? Is she posed to take on the role of audience surrogate as the Beasts adjust to (and more than likely destroy) life on Earth?
Curnow: In a way yes, though I think her brother, Tate, who is completely in the dark as to what is happening, is more of an audience surrogate. Bliss is the one person on Earth who can understand the Beasts, so she has a unique role. When it comes to the Beasts, she’s possibly the most important person in the world, because she’s the only one who has any hope of communicating with them.
Of course, Bliss is a pretty average person in many respects, and seeing an ordinary person thrust into this remarkable situation will provide a lot of the dramatic drive for the series.
Curnow: Initially, yes. As the series goes on, we’re incorporating some designs from the upcoming toy prototypes we’ve seen. But the main cast, and pretty much all the Beasts you see in the first two issues, are all Valerio! I’m extraordinarily lucky to have him on the book. His designs are great, his action is great… everything is great. His enthusiasm is palpable and he’s bringing everything he’s got to this book. I know a lot of people are going to become Valerio fans for life from this book!
GeekDad: The IDW comic is launching alongside the new toy line from Diamond Select. How much interaction has taken place between the two teams?
Curnow: The Diamond Select team sees everything. They’ve had great ideas and insight, while at the same time letting me do all sorts of crazy stuff. In short, they’re ideal partners! I can’t wait to see what the entire toy line will look like, I’m sure it’s going to be great.
GeekDad: Lastly, Bobby, Battle Beasts seems to take some of the best elements from many of my favorite IDW books, the active storytelling of the Dungeons & Dragons series and, of course, the talking, fighting animals of Turtles. Who do you see as the book’s core audience?
Curnow: That’s funny you bring up those two books. John Rogers’s D&D book was one of my favorites of recent years. Just so much fun… great dialogue to go with great action. I’m not on the same level as him, but that’s a definite influence. And I’m the editor on the TMNT books, so that’s ingrained in my DNA. Like those books, I think anyone who likes big adventure will dig Battle Beasts.
I think what those two books share, and I hope Battle Beasts shares as well, is a sense of fun. These books all deal with big, life-threatening “serious” events, but at the same time there’s humor and warmth to the characters. I think that’s so key, and missing from a lot of modern comic books. If nothing else, comics should be fun. That’s my first and foremost goal… for the reader to have fun. I know Valerio has delivered on his end, I hope I do on mine!