by Orion Tippens
Writer/Artist: Jeffrey Brown
Top Shelf Comics
Vol. 1 – Sept. 2007, 146 pages
Vol. 2 – March. 2011, 146 pages
More than just machines!
Finally, a story about fighting robots with all of the emotional depth and drama that comes with the consequences of personal change…into vehicles.
And within that tale, questions arise. Did the Incredible Change-Bots evolve from word processors? Can Shootertron handle a sudden existential crisis? Can a robot police car and a robot truck explore their forbidden love? Can Big Rig become a credible leader to his gang of Awesomebots? Can’t we all just get along? Answers to those and more happen in this epic two-part graphic novel.
Incredible Change-Bots is the underrated work of Jeffrey Brown, better known for his self-reflecting autobiographical works including Clumsy and Unlikely and the recent hit Darth Vader and Son. Brown carries a unique sense of dry wit often focused on the observed irony and melodrama of the mundane. For the visuals, he keeps it simple and fun with everything crudely hand-drawn, sticking to the basics of a bored child stuck in after-school detention. For Incredible Change-Bots, Brown adds all of that to this colossal parody of the Transformers.
The story is simple: the Awesomebots (led by Big Rig) fight against the Fantasticons (led by Shootertron). The Change-Bots engage in their lengthy conflict carried over from their war-ravaged planet of Electrotronocybercircuitron over the usual reasons: politics, personal beliefs, power, and the joy of excessive boasting – while readers get chuckles and thrills over the metal carnage.
Hardcore Transformers fans out there will likely appreciate and enjoy the pokes and jabs to the original ’80s cartoon. Many absurdities are pointed out, especially with the plot structure of the first episodes. For example, the necessity of the human-robot symbiotic relationships. The Awesomebots develop friendships with humans, and the Fantasticons force contracts of servitude. For both situations, it seems the humans are too easy in accepting like the good machines they are.
But at what cost to both sides? This is where Brown’s style appeals to beyond the mere fandom of childhood nostalgia. Some will stand, some will fall, and some will stand again. Learn how simple robots deal with problems as they should: with lasers, as the nature of fighting robots goes. However, this leads to some interesting, funny, and sometimes bizarre situations involving philosophical reflections, emotional breakdowns, absurd character developments, and misunderstandings. All of these qualities, added to the joy of absurd robot conflict, transforms the heart of the reading experience of these two funnybooks into something special beyond the realm of parody.
The art is wonderful. Jeffrey Brown’s simple yet vibrant style brings out a strange beauty often dismissed as amateur, using water-based markers for the color, freehand lettering, and a masterful cartooniness. Brown’s complexity and style in his storytelling develops a rapport between the author and reader, something rarely seen in today’s mainstream cavalcade of comics. The reward of reading The Incredible Change-Bots are the laughs and throwbacks to an innocent, strange world that reflects our own, perhaps leading us to not take things too seriously. I hope, as hinted in the end, that perhaps another volume could happen.
So, for those with eclectic tastes, and Transformers fans that endlessly complained about the Michael Bay movies (or enjoyed them too much), look for both volumes available at better comic stores and digital apps.
- Orion Tippens
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