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By Thomas Wheeler

One of the high points of the generally excellent TRANSFORMERS BEAST WARS computer-animated series was when the characters finally realized that they were on a primitive Earth, millions of years in the past, and even discovered The Ark, the crashed starship of the Autobots, which would be awakened in the late 20th century.

Of course, this discovery set Megatron, leader of the Predacons, on a path to try to conquer all of time and space. He had in his possession the remnants of a pair of Golden Disks, which held information about the future, and he intended to use it.

But word had gotten back, across time and space, to Cybertron -- specifically to the Tripredacus Council, which governed the Predacons, and which considered Megatron a renegade that needed to be brought in once and for all. To that end, they dispatched a Tripredacus Agent to prehistoric Earth, to make contact with the Maximals, led by Optimus Primal, and to try to deal with Megatron.

Their choice of agent was rather interesting. As Optimus Primal would explain, a number of surviving Decepticons from the Great War were reformatted and reprogrammed, and brought into the Predacon cause.

One of them was Ravage.

In the original Transformers line, Ravage was a robotic cassette who was one of several used by Soundwave on a regular basis. Technically not having a humanoid robotic form, he could transform from a small audio cassette into a black robotic jaguar, and was a ferocious opponent in this form. Although the comic book Ravage was capable of thought and speech, the animated Ravage, which arguably had the greater level of official continuity, was far more animalistic. He didn't speak -- he snarled and growled. Clearly he was intelligent, as he was well capable of understanding and carrying out complex orders, but he still came across more as an animal than anything else.

In the Beast Wars adventure that followed, Ravage had obviously received a number of upgrades. He appeared far more humanoid, although his head was still that of a black jaguar, and he could speak, admittedly with something that sounded faintly like a Russian accent (and somebody explain to me how robots from another planet can pick up on Earth dialects as well as the lmaguage!?)

Over the course of the adventure, Megatron was captured, and Ravage was furious at him for disgracing the Predacons, and as far as he was concerned, disgracing the Decepticons and the name of the original Megatron. But this Megatron had a secret. There was a recording on one of the Golden Disks from the original Megatron. This turned Ravage against the Maximals, and against his assignment to bring in Megatron. Instead, he teamed up with the Predacon leader, and attacked the Maximals, even transforming (complete with original sound effects) to a cassette at one point!

It was a cool bit of cross continuity, in a way sort of like what happened when Spock appeared in Star Trek The Next Generation.

But there was never a Ravage toy for Beast Wars. Wal-Mart received a toy called "Tripredacus Agent", which was a recolored version of one of the Transmetals Cheetors, but it wasn't a very good likeness.

But in Japan -- that was another matter.

Transformers, obviously, are just as popular in Japan as they are in America. That's where they started, after all. And Takara knew a cool situation when they saw one. So they took the original Transmetals Cheetor, and reworked him a fair bit, to come up with a very capable version of the Beast Wars Ravage. I'm not entirely sure that's what they actually called him, since I don't read Japanese, but everyone knew this was who it was supposed to be.

One of the most interesting features of the figure was a series of extra labels that came with him. The figure has an opening chestplate, and there were several different labels that could be places on the flat surface beneath as a sort of "screen display". One of these labels -- the one I chose to use -- was the classic Decepticon logo, up against a purple grid pattern. Very traditional, indeed. This was, to the best of my knowledge, the first time a classic Transformers logo was used on any Beast Wars toy.

Ravage was popular enough among collectors so that when Hasbro made an early, and less than successful attempt to start up a collectors' Web Site Shop, this Ravage was one of the Japanese import Transformers that was offered.

As a figure, the toy is incredible just in its own right. In robot form, the toy has an amazing level of articulation. I can't even imagine what sort of engineering has to go into these things.

Today, people have mixed feelings about Beast Wars. Personally, I liked it. I thought the series was excellent. I was less impressed with the Beast Machines series. Although it had a decent level of continuity to both Beast Wars and the original Transformers, the storyline and character design was just too strange. Granted, some people felt that way about Transformers that turned into animals rather than vehicles and weapons.

And today, Transformers has largely returned to its basic roots, even if there have been several Transformers concepts in the scope of things, from Robots in Disguise, to Armada, Energon, and now Cybertron. And let us not forget the forthcoming live-action movie.

But Beast Wars was an interesting chapter in the Transformers saga, and the episode that brought Ravage in certainly an interesting episode in the series. And the Ravage toy is one very cool Transformer, and I'm glad to have him. And if you can find one, I certainly recommend him!