Jeffrey Brown: Incredible Change-Bots Two (Top Shelf, 4/12/11)
Even for someone like myself, who has the very briefest experience with Saturday-morning cartoons like Transformers, Jeffrey Brown’s Incredible Change-Bots Two is a highly enjoyable send-up of the genre and a silly little slice of nostalgia. Something about recasting transforming robots as incompetent, bickering armies, or featuring a robot with a gun for an arm as having an existential crisis, works perfectly as both an absurd tribute and satire of shows that were, even in their heyday, thinly disguised means of selling toys.
The graphic novel continues the story of Incredible Change-Bots, in which the Fantasticons and Awesomebots destroyed their own planet through war and then traveled to Earth, which they also destroyed. The sequel continues in the same endearingly nonsensical vein. The leader of the Fantasticons, Shootertron, was left behind when the rest of the Change-Bots left Earth and tries to regain his memory with the help of farmers and the ridiculously ineffectual US government that wants to use him as a weapon.
Just as Shootertron remembers his true purpose (the gun arms were kind of a giveaway), the Awesomebots crash-land on Earth again, and face opposition from their Fantasticon members who defect back to Shootertron, as well as the government. The admittedly thin premise, designed to mock the shows that it apes, just provides a reason for some excellent jokes, colorful characters, and cartoonish art.
In a great running joke, some of the Change-Bots transform into completely useless things, like a microwave or just a metal head. Their names, like Eject, Big Rig, Racey, and Extra Damaged Battle Arsenol, add to the silliness, while the jokes recall some of the tamer shows on Adult Swim. Meant in the best way possible, the art and hand-drawn lettering look like they could be found in the notebook of a young fan. It’s a perfect fit for the full-out absurdity and silliness of the story.
Brown is also keenly aware, however, of how much something like Transformers meant to its now-adult fans when they were youngsters (look no further than the movie success for proof that we’re all still interested in robot action and explosions), and he doesn’t stray far from the essence of the cartoon.
I never would have thought that a tongue-in-cheek story about transforming robots would have me laughing out loud, and the appeal of the book is still a little hard to explain. As strange as it is, readers will be drawn into the bizarre world of Jeffrey Brown’s imagination, which is both self-aware and gleefully enthusiastic about its childishness. Great jokes and art, along with a clear love of the original property, make this comic a quick, fun read for anyone who enjoys his or her childhood nostalgia with a winking self-awareness.