For as much as I love robot toys, I think that many of the narratives that have been built around them are frequently hokey and forgettable. Take the Transformers, for example: The toys themselves are creative, colorful and well-designed playthings, but the stories behind them are paper-thin pretenses to sell the toys. While there are still plenty of die-hard Transformers fans out there, I could never seriously accept the blatantly absurd premise of an ongoing war between anthropomorphic, shape-changing robots from outer space.
Thankfully, there's a graphic novel out there for both Transformers fans and naysayers alike: Incredible Change-Bots by Jeffrey Brown. Change-Bots tells the story of two warring groups of transforming robots, the good (yet dysfunctional) Awesomebots and the bad (yet incompetent) Fantasticons, and how they bring their unending and aimless conflict to Earth. Read on for my complete review.
This 2007 parody is a must-have for anyone who loves transformable robot toys and remembers the dozens of cartoons, comic books and movies that have been used to help sell them to kids. Through Change-Bots, Brown expertly takes the narrative devices behind stories written for the Transformers toys (as well as their less successful counterparts, the Go-Bots) and turns them on their shiny metal heads. He pokes fun at everything from the robots' goofy extraterrestrial origins, to the strange sounds they make when they transform (or in this case, “incredible change!”), to their choice of conspicuously self-descriptive names. One of my favorite Change-Bot names is Wheeeee, the name of the robot that incredible changes into a motorcycle.
On the rear flap of the book, Brown describes Change-Bots as "part parody" and "part nostalgic tribute". This description is spot-on, and I doubt that Brown could've done such a great job at satirizing transforming robots if he weren't a fan of them at one point. In fact, much of Brown's humor reminded me of the kind of geek-friendly humor found in Twisted ToyFare Theater, so much so that Brown could've have told the same Change-Bots story with word balloons printed over still pictures of robot toys and not miss a beat.
Autobot Leader Optimus Prime,
as depicted on Transformers toy boxes ...
... and Awesomebot Leader Big Rig,
as seen in Incredible Change-Bots.
Not only does he spoof the Transformers stories, but Brown also throws in a few jabs at other aspects of toy-centric transforming robot franchises:
* On the last page of the book is an ad for the Incredible Change-Bots Fan Club, which promises an official membership card, an exclusive mini-comic, and a hand-drawn picture of the Change-Bot of your choice.
* Change-Bots begins with two-page spreads that list every Change-Bot character (one spread for the Awesomebots, the other for the Fantasticons). These spreads are arranged like the mini-catalogs that would be included with many of the Transformers toys (collect them all!).
* One page features a detailed, painted picture of one of the Change-Bots, the Awesomebot leader Big Rig. This picture imitates the detailed, painted robot art that would adorn the boxes of Transformers toys to enhance their visual appeal.
* Even though Change-Bots is printed in English, the printing on the book's spine is entirely in Japanese characters--a clever nod to where the transforming robot trend really began.
The Official Incredible Change-Bots
Fan Club Membership Kit
Brown recently released a sequel called Incredible Change-Bots Two, which I hope to pick up and review soon. Also, be sure to check out the exclusive Incredible Change-Bots mini-comic over at Comics Alliance.