Top Shelf Productions, August 2007
Jeffrey Brown, writer/artist
The best gags in Jeffrey Brown’s loving, lushly colored Transformers parody feel like they didn’t necessarily have to be part of Jeffrey Brown’s loving, lushly colored Transformers parody. A Change-Bot describing, mid-fight and in overly verbose detail, the rigors he went through so as to enjoy pounding the shit out of his enemy…a leopard batting around an origami Change-Bot, then “trot trot trot”ting away with the crumpled bird-bot in its mouth…the evil leader blowing away his underling for the crime of having “perfect aim” that’s “not perfect enough”…all of these jokes play off the same sources of humor–inflated self-worth either rampaging unabated or getting pathetically deflated, imaginations shaped by exposure to genre fiction–present in many of Brown’s gag panels and short, funny stand-alone strips.
The story that links them all together is definitely best appreciated by Transformers fans, and I’d imagine Brown didn’t hope for anything more. That two factions of giant robots waging vindictive war against one another for eons might unwittingly cause massive destruction to themselves and their allies in the process is an idea that even kids could dimly make out beneath the surface of the concept, and Brown brings it to the fore entertainingly, maybe all the more so for its gentleness (Dan Clowes’s “On Sports” this isn’t). He also makes some hay out of the narrative loose ends endemic to these kinds of stories: robots yelling “I can explain!” and never doing so, doomsday buttons that may or may not have been pressed. If anything, I wish he’d laid into some of the Transformer mythos’ weirder elements–those five-headed floating robot tribunal guys, the giant planet-sized robot, the death and rebirth of the two leaders, and so on–but I suppose that would draw it away from the central “two equally stupid and destructive forces are arbitrarily slapped with ‘good’ and ‘evil’ tags and the audience is expected not to notice” thesis.
Ultimately Change-Bots is dumb fun, with the emphasis on both words: Practically every character is an idiot, which limits the book’s depth. But when combined with Brown’s solid character design, blockily effective action choreography, and vivid magic-marker palette, it’s certainly a pip to breeze through, even if I don’t see myself returning to it as often as I do to Brown’s autobiographies, or even most of his other, less franchise-specific humor and parody comics.