I spend quite a bit of time reading graphic novels with some commentary on life experiences, philosophical concepts, or traditional genres and cultural motifs. However, more often than not, I love a good, silly yet clever work of comedy. And, there is no better comedic graphic novel creator than Mr. Jeffrey Brown.
For this week’s review, I’m reaching a little further back in time for a series of Brown’s that deserves some attention, particularly after the string of Transformers films; that is the Incredible Change-Bots.
Released in August 2007, right after the release of the Michael Bay all flash re-vamp of the Transformers series, Incredible Change-Bots parodies the Transformers world of robot heroism. The change-bots live on Electranocybercircuitron in the midst of a War of the Roses a la robot, where the two leading tribes, the Awesomebots and the Fantasticons, battle for control over the planet they inhabit. Despite all efforts to succeed over the other tribe, both end at a stalemate and manage to destroy the planet they spent time and energy fighting over.
The two enter a shaky truce and decide to head to another planet, but, alas, their futile feud reappears on their spaceship in transit, and the whole group ends up landing on Earth after a few haphazard laser shots at each other. After their landing, the Awesomebots and Fantasticons reinitiate their war, but this time with human beings on each side. The two forces endlessly fight, and in the war on Earth, Brown introduces lots of jeering stabs at the plot “twists” we see from miles away in action and superhero films until the two forces, to yet again, lead to another robot war stalemate.
There is little to be said about the intellectual properties of Incredible Change-Bots beyond its warping and distortion of common superhero motifs. Ultimately, both the Awesomebots and Fantasticons are led by incompetent alpha-male type characters, which carries most of the comedy of the book. Brown’s re-envisioning of the Transformers’ Autobots and Decepticons as bumbling, clumsy, and myopic egoists delivers plenty of inappropriate laughs because these change-bots have no redeeming qualities to them and from their incompetence comes many moments of awkwardness, discomfort, and hilariousness.
Acutely honing in on all of the plot devices used in superhero movies to appeal to general audiences ranging from the peripheral love story to the interior betrayal to the hidden familial tie between enemies, Brown irresponsibly and cleverly uses the same plot conventions to turn the Transformers series into a complete and utter spectacle and debacle. But, in its comedic and absurdist approach, there is something oddly very human about the Incredible Change-Bots, for the change-bots act so badly because they possess more human foibles than any hero or protagonist in any superhero story. As a result, the change-bots stand less like the pinnacles of human virtue and more like robot versions of the Three Stooges.
As with most Jeffrey Brown novels, his comedy lies in the dialog, and the same goes for Incredible Change-Bots. The change-bots insult each other, comment on their own robot characteristics, and expel the best onomatopoeia when they transform from cars to standing robots. In addition, with every action each change-bot takes and every word spoken, you get a sense that Jeffrey Brown took a look at each item he encountered in the Transformers series and asked himself, “How could I make this both more absurd and realistic?”
With summer always bringing about superhero blockbusters (which do occasionally carry their own entertainment value), do check out the Incredible Change-Bots in parallel to that next outrageous super action film you see. It’s certainly a graphic novel challenging the motifs attractive to the summer superhero audience, but it will have you endlessly laughing and then cringing at the thought that you invested time into the fantasy of any of the films of the Transformers series or really any superhero series in the first place.
I’d love to think of a universe where Jeffrey Brown wrote all screenplays; it would be a world with fewer car chases and explosions and many more honest yet never caustic comments on the ridiculousness of the things that tend to capture our collective attention.
Incredible Change-Bots One and Two are available via Top Shelf Productions.