Reviewed by Chris Bolton
In our modern world, there are at least two ways to revisit one's cartoon-watching childhood: rent the DVD collection of the actual shows, which often leads to heartbreak and the inevitable realization that, as children, we liked a lot of truly stupid crap; or read an affectionate parody that captures the spirit of the original work, without all the truly stupid crappy parts, and adds a whole lot of funny.
The latter is what Jeffrey Brown's graphic novella Incredible Change-Bots offers onetime fans of the Transformers cartoon series, toys, and comic books, which were pretty much impossible to avoid in the 1980s.
The plots are virtually identical. Brown's Incredible Change-Bots come from the planet Electronocybercircuitron, which consists of robots that change into vehicles, weapons, and even a microwave. The heroic Awesomebots and the evil Fantasticons are engaged in a brutal war after the Fantasticons rig the voting so their leader, Shootertron, becomes ruler of the planet. The increasingly fascistic leader of the Awesomebots, Big Rig, organizes a revolt: "We'll go to the Fantasticon Chamber of Commerce in peaceful protest... An extremely well-armed peaceful protest!"
The ensuing war destroys the planet, which prompts the Incredible Change-Bots to flee in a spaceship to a new world. When fighting predictably breaks out on-board, they crash-land on a strange planet called Earth, where their "incredible change" abilities help them blend in.
This is all exactly like The Transformers -- what I remember of it, anyway -- which is precisely the idea. Brown skillfully pays homage to the series, even incorporating "incredible-changing" sound effects that perfectly approximate the transformation noises in the cartoon ("Choo-chee-chuk-chee-choo!"). Instead of a work of embarrassing fanboy worship, however, Brown turns his tribute into a parody, spoofing the silliest parts of those old stories and utilizing a streak of adult irony that runs from adorable (the "Bew-bew!" sounds made by their laser guns) to borderline sadistic (several Change-Bots die in ways that are hilarious and would have induced catatonia among young viewers in the '80s).
Winking references abound. When the always defeated Fantasticons regroup after a skirmish, Shootertron informs his followers, "I have discovered why we always fail in battle." The slide on the wall behind him reads, "Poor Aim."
After an Awesomebot is mortally wounded, Big Rig eulogizes him: "He was a true hero. A noble Change-Bot." "Not really," another Awesomebot interjects. "He was kind of an obnoxious jerk, actually." Big Rig responds, "Really? I didn't really know him. I was just saying that because he died in battle."
In Brown's version, two Change-Bots even have a sexual relationship, which is depicted in solid-black panels with numerous "Klank Klank Klank" sounds.
Brown's art style is a perfect fit for this material. His line work is simple but skillful, utilizing uneven proportions and awkward angles to charming effect, and giving unexpected personality to childishly rendered robots. The coloring looks at times like it was done with Crayola markers, giving the sense that we're reading a stapled-together comic that a 10-year-old Transformers fan might have drawn during recess in the mid-'80s. (Though, he probably would have left out the sex.)
Incredible Change-Bots is shockingly entertaining. More than a spoof, it creates its own indelible characters that are a good deal more memorable than the originals. It thrives on its own self-awareness, and the thrill of reading it is the satisfaction of sharing a collective smirk with an entire generation
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