Review: Incredible Change-Bots graphic novel (Top Shelf Comics)

Monday, November 05, 2007

[This review comes from Doug Glassman:]

More than DC, Star Wars and even Power Rangers, my favorite franchise of all time, bar none, is the Transformers. Part of it is the mythos that these robots in disguise have developed, which spread out far beyond the animated series and into comics from three separate companies. Part of it is the adaptability of the franchise. They've been able to go through multiple incarnations without losing most of their appeal. (Though I will admit that the Armada/Energon years were a bit trying) Most of all though, the concept of gigantic robots is thrilling--the Tripods of The War of the Worlds are some of sci-fi's most memorable villains. Add to that the idea of transforming and blending into humanity and you've got one of the most marketable concepts of all time. Capping that, you have memorable characters such as the superheroic Optimus Prime and the opportunistic Starscream. The sheer box office numbers of the recent film (including the highest selling DVD of the year) bear this out.

But I'm not actually reviewing a Transformers book in this review. I'll save that for later when I review Stormbringer, amongst other books. No, this is a review for Incredible Change-Bots, an OGN by Jeffrey Brown published through Top Shelf Comics. Brown is mostly known for his autobiographical comics, so this is a bit of a departure for him, albeit a welcome one. Simply drawn and hilariously worded, Incredible Change-Bots is the first truly great Transformers parody. It takes all the story beats of a Transformers series and mocks all of them wonderfully. Battle at a dam? Done. Epic duel between leaders? Done. Useless human help? Done. Even the transforming sound effect is spoofed as the Incredible Changing sound effect. Only a true Transformers fan would be able to do a parody like this, and Brown shines at hitting all the right notes.

Essentially, Incredible Change-Bots is the story of Big Rig and his Awesomebots, as well as their enemies, Shootertron and the Fantasticons. If you can't follow the characters--and a lot of them blend into each other--don't worry: there's a handy character guide at the front. They fight over the fate of Electronocybercircuitron, with an initial debate stemming from (of all things) evolution vs. intelligent design. It's more of a running gag than a true political argument; honestly, it's the most absurd thing for a bunch of giant robots to fight over. But it gets them to Earth, where Shootertron seeks out human allies in order to get more energy. The ending is reminiscent of the recent Transformers film, and I'm not entirely sure if it's a coincidence or if he added it because of the movie.

At the surface, it's funny on its own. Cliches such as the inability for evil troops to hit their targets are spoofed. (I won't ruin the capper of this gag, though.) But the most fun comes from identifying all of the Transformers jokes within. Shootertron is Megatron taken to a level of sinister that the animated character never reached. Big Rig, his counterpart, is wonderfully inept and makes mistakes that Prime would never make. Microwave as the Soundwave parody (complete with his minions Soupy and Popper) is classic. Wheeeee, the Starscream stand-in, is a great suck-up; his "Shootertron has fallen!" bit is hysterical, especially if you've seen a few episodes of the old series and know how often Starscream tried the same thing. Monkeywrench and Jimmy Jr. point out all of the ridiculous situations Spike and Sparkplug were put in. And, of course, Incredible Change-Bots brings up the question first thought up when Elita-One was introduced: robot sex.

. . . Let's move on, shall we?

The artwork is rather unique. It's certainly not the shiny, well-proportioned artwork you'd find in an IDW trade. Instead, the artwork of Incredible Change-Bots is clearly hand-drawn and hand-colored. That's not to say it's poorly done or amateurish; everything is professional, but simple in nature. The transfor--sorry, Incredible Change sequences for the characters create oddly shaped robot modes that are very distinct from anything in Transformers. Heads and arms pop out in odd places, such as the centers of windshields. The super-detailed pin-up of Big Rig in the back points out how ridiculous some of the bots look.

It's a bit hard to recommend Incredible Change-Bots to a non-Transformers fan. If you've seen the film, you probably have enough knowledge of the franchise to get most of the jokes. However, try to catch a few animated series episodes in order to really get it. In any case, Incredible Change-Bots is hilarious to a fan like me. Pick up a copy and support a sequel . . . after all, one is promised at the end.

[OGN. Contains pin-up drawings, catalogue of Jeffrey Brown's work, membership offer to the Official Incredible Change-Bots Fan Club. $15.00]
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