Incredible Change Bots
by Jeffrey Brown
Like our own Chuck Bantam said, don't bother with the fucking Transformers movie, it's CGI porn that looks like several bundles of trash rolling down a street bumping into one another. If you want a truer and more heartfelt (and of course, goddamn funnier) tribute to the heart of what Transformers was -- let's face it, a surreal morality play aimed squarely at sugarfixed children -- then you've got to run down to the local comics shoppe and pick up the handy, pocket-sized volume of Incredible Change-Bots by Jeffrey Brown. Known more for opening his heart with his quirky, earnest and oft melancholy autobiographical tales, Brown has nonetheless here opened himself up on several new fronts with Change-Bots: 1. Litigation up the wazoo from no-doubt eagle eyed Hasbro lawyers eager to protect "intellectual property" (yet no troubles yet, perhaps they realize that this is much more complimentary to the source than a popcorn nightmare) and 2. disbelief, confusion or sarcasm from longtime fans who might be somewhat eager to cover up the miniature plastic skeletons in their own closets.
Brown has no doubt done his homework, or wasted his youth in front of the television -- but then, didn't we all? Because he has created a damn near perfect hybrid of Transformers and GoBots - with the two warring tribes (Autobots and Decepticons here become Awesomebots and Fantasticons) comprised of a delightfully large cast of awkward looking vehicle/robot hybrids, looking totally distinct and yet eerily familiar to half-remembered moments from the long-running cartoon series. The Change-Bots also come from a planet called Electrocybercircuitron, which is exhausted of energy (as in the show), and do make alliances with humans, good and bad, along the way. But there's where the similarities end and that's where Brown's surreal and mischievous sensibilities make the mythology all his own. In his story, the Fantasticons rigged an election so that Shootertron (Megatron) could become leader of their world, note that the Fantasticons make copious references to faith over science in the course of the book. However, the Optimus Prime analogue Big Rig, leader of the Awesomebots, who's also kind of a dick, decides to engage in "an extremely well-armed peaceful protest" that ends up devastating the planet. From there it's on to Earth and off to the races as the gags pile up.
Turns out that Brown is a master at lunkheadedly awesome sight gags and wordplay (the "transforming" sound effects alone are worth the price). It starts with a two-page spread of the 'bots -- one is just named "Balls" then there's "Bushwacky" and "Hoser," and a transforming microwave oven ("Microwave") has two smaller 'bots popping out of him, "Soupy" and "Popper." Yes! The aforementioned Bushwacky refuses to put his vision-obscuring blast-shield up, and when another Fantasticon inquires why, Bushwacky replies that he "fires on faith" and then shoots wildly without hitting a thing. Or when transforming semi-truck Big Rig stops a fight so that he can carefully set up his tractor trailer! The "Bumblebee" character Balls is good for laughs too, like when he offers to give the Awesomebots' human friends a ride to the infirmary -- he transforms, has them get in, makes them put on their seatbelts and then put-puts the twenty feet to the doorway. Oh god, or when Shootertron tells the evil human general who makes a deal with the Fantasticons that "now it is time for us to pleasure each other." There's this priceless moment of panicked silence until Shootertron explains that it's just "you give us the energy we require and we give you the technology you covet." Okay last one, they really get it right with the Starscream analogue's (Wheee, a transforming motorcycle) constant desire to supplant Shootertron; every time Shootertron gets even scratched in a fight, Wheee deliriously declares that he is the new leader of the Fantasticons. This stuff is comedy gold.
I found myself wiping away tears and laughing out loud in inappropriate public places more times than I would like to mention while reading this book. Might I suggest a GI Joe riff now that their movie is due to be released?