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Incredible Change-Bots

Top Shelf Comix
by yo go re

Stop me if you've heard this one before: a race of shape-changing mechanoids from a far-off, distant world leaves home and comes to Earth, where the two factions continue their battle. Once here, the "robots" move in "disguise," to keep humans unaware of their war, but eventually gain allies who are every bit as courageous and willing to stand against their enemies. Sound familiar? It's not what you think.

Far away in space, there is a planet full of robots able to change from robot form to vehicle form - the Incredible Change-Bots! Leaving their war torn planet, the Change-Bots arrive on Earth, where their battle continues - but at what cost?!

It's not right to just label the Incredible Change-Bots a parody: no one who's this familiar with the Transformers' G1 story can only want to make fun. Neither is it a simple homage - the story goes beyond such a superficial word. No, this is something deeper. This is a complete and honest tribute, a four-color love letter to the highlights, the strengths, the silliness and the foibles of the Robots in Disguise. And also the Go-Bots.

And really, it's all here: the distant metal-coated planet, the team of good guys led by a tractor trailer, the team of bad guys led by a gun and undermined by his power-hungry lieutenant, the human mechanic and his son, the ceaseless quest for energy... heck, even that famous Transformers sound (and a theme song!). Really, we could fill an entire blog post just enumerating all the parallels, and spelling out who's supposed to be who, but we won't. You already know them, even if you don't know the names. The Change-Bots (who are "more than just machines") are Transformers in the same way that The Simpsons' "Itchy and Scratchy Show" is Tom and Jerry.

Both story and art in this graphic novel are handled by Jeffrey Brown, an indie comics darling who you've never heard of. If you're just familiar with Marvel and DC comics, that is. Nobody's beating down his door to get him to draw Batman or Spider-Man, you know? The artwork is reminscent of something you'd see scrawled on the door of a bathroom stall - well, maybe the bathroom stall at art school or an animation studio. The guy unquestionably has talent, it just manifests itself in a style different from the typical superheroic art most casual comic fans will be used to.

If you go into the book expecting the humans to look like they were drawn by Todd McFarlane or the robots like they were drawn by Pat Lee, you're going to be disappointed (though a pin-up from Don Figueroa or one of those other "real" TF artists would be drop-dead funny). Don't expect high-tone computer colors, either: though this is Brown's first full-color graphic novel, it was all done by hand, but that just adds to the nostalgic feel. And don't feel cheated - Brown gets more impressive explosions with markers than some artists get with fancy computer programs.

The writing is what really makes this book, though, whether it's the subtle G1 nods or the broad comedy. Usually when it's both. Hell, half the fun of Incredible Change-Bots for a big Transfan is going through and seeing what Brown has done with the old standards. Optimus Prime... er, sorry, "Big Rig's" trailer doesn't just disappear when he transforms incredible-changes, he has to stop and set it up himself. Shootertron berates his underlings for their poor marksmanship, then takes them to the shooting range for target practice.

But that isn't to say you have to be a total toy nerd to understand all the intricacies of the fight between the Awesomebots and the Fantasticons. Funny's funny, whether it's a combatant calling for a time out, everyone ignoring the elderly or just good old-fashioned potty humor. Incredible Change-Bots is a consistently amusing book, and has its share of genuine laughs throughout. There's plenty of real action, and even a romantic subplot if you like the mushy stuff.

Jeffrey Brown is previously known for autobiographical comics, so Incredible Change-Bots is the author's first foray into '80s toy nostalgio-parody, a genre I just made up. This book is great fun, especially for those of us who will get the joke. It's available at Amazon, your local comic shop or even direct from publisher take THAT, army man! Top Shelf's website. It's $15, but you can easily spend that much on a decent Transformer toy, and this will give you a lot more laughs. Definitely check it out - if it sells well, maybe Brown will give us his take on other '80s classics like Soldier Joe, Spacecats or even Musculor and the Lords of the Galaxy. And if you really dig the book, look in the back for info on joining the totally legit Incredible Change-Bots fan club, which has some nice extras.

-- 07/10/07

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