"I dunno, Balls... who needs girls when you get to hang out with robots?"

Incredible Change-Bots

This should be out on Wednesday. It's Jeffrey Brown's new release from Top Shelf, and also his first full-color longform comics work, $15 for 144 pages.

We're back in the realm of parody with Brown, although this Transformers spoof is stronger than Bighead, Brown's aimless superhero thing. I suspect part of that result is due to focus - while Bighead was mainly a collection of minicomics joined up with extracts from an unfinished graphic novel, Incredible Change-Bots benefits from a sense of narrative build that allows its jokes greater room to breathe across Brown's wide canvas, willing to accommodate the large cast and sprawling plot that a tribute to a vast toy line and television cartoon franchise perhaps demands. Granted, the book never quite escapes the episodic nature that marks many of Brown's prior works, including the pointillist 'girlfriend' books that made his name, but even this seems like less of a pressing problem than an odd comics equivalent of watching a whole season of cartoons with all the titles and commercials edited out.

The plot is quite simple: Big Rig and the heroic Awesomebots have long waged war with Shootertron and the wicked Fantasticons, at least since Shootertron totally stole the last election on their home planet of Electronocybercircuitron, and now the battle's come to Earth, where young Jimmy Junior and his dad Monkeywrench get caught up in the action. You might have detected an element of political satire - indeed, the Fantasticons loathe the Awesomebots' "religion of science" (as Shootertron puts it) and love to wage war, and they're quick to ally themselves with Earth's energy-rich military interests after they arrive on Earth, while the Awesomebots cook up a natural, peaceable power source. But Brown uses this material mainly for quick jabs, before mixing it in with a half-serious concluding moral that only evidences discomfort with even rolling out such real-world matters at all.

Thus, the book works best as pure nostalgic parody, and there's some pleasure to be had in that, particularly on the visual level. Brown's art is somewhat surprising in how naturally it fits with the subject matter - his character designs are pretty slick, but executed in a pliable enough style that they feel more like fond remembrances of childhood things than cool toy designs. The robot faces are pretty great, expressive in a way that links them to Brown's human characters, their usual shriveled forms more a counterpoint here than an expression of interpersonal vulnerability. It's efficient, even canny, and nicely colored in bright hues that mainly set the forms of the robots off against sandy orange or sterile white.

As for the jokes, well... they'll probably get a smirk or two out of the occasional comment on cartoon tropes (all the evil robots have terrible aim so they go to a firing range, the nasty second-in-command wants to be leader until it has to do something, etc.), and naming a robot "Balls" is always good for a laff (it's a golf cart, you see). The evil microwave robot was decent, especially with the mini popcorn bag robot and plastic bowl of soup robot that hide within. The propulsive pace does tire the gags out after a while, leaving the book in the odd position of seeming like it ought to be taken in small doses, even though it's a very quick read.

Maybe a bigger Transformers enthusiast than I might get more out of this; there's enough odd character detail present to indicate that Brown is playing with specific fannish elements that I can't quite grasp. Nevertheless, I can say that it's an attractive project, and is probably worth flipping through if only to check out how the artist approaches his subject matter. You might take or leave the subject itself.