Jeffrey Brown clearly belongs to the former. Only someone who spent hours watching Transformers or GoBots could have come up with something like Incredible Change-Bots. Every page either recalls an actual episode, or at least creates the impression of something approximating it. Those old enough at the time might have correctly observed that the cartoons were an attempt to cash-in on the popularity of competing Japanese toy lines. But you probably had to be younger and more naive to really appreciate just how cool it was to see a car transform into a robot - admittedly, one that looked like a car being folded and turned inside-out. Incredible Change-Bots isn't a difficult comic to comprehend. It's about a war between two robot armies. But how readers engaged with the source material will affect their opinions as to whether this book is seen as just dumb fun, or just plain dumb.
Brown manages to tweak many of the familiar cliches found in many 80s cartoons: The trite life-affirming messages aimed at kids (A small robot is convinced that he's not totally useless with the line “But what if there was, like, a tiny tunnel or something, and they needed you to race through it?”), over the top proclamations (To everyone's annoyance, someone keeps repeating the catch-phrase “Time to take out the trash!”), absurd action sequences (One side has incredibly bad aim), or narrative loose ends (One robot's betrayal is completely forgotten and given no explanation). Then there's the many inside jokes made for the fans benefit (Big Rig and Shootertron are stand-ins for Optimus Prime and Megatron), silly code names (Big Rig, Shootertron, and all the members of the two warring sides called the Awesomebots and Fantasticons), the equally bizarre transformations (Unlike Optimus Prime, Big Rig has to carefully set up his tractor trailer), the sound effects (Incredible Change!). This book could have been ten times longer had Brown decided to explore every facet of the animated series. As it stands, ICB gets its point across without overwhelming the reader.
The story subverts the usual "good vs. evil" premise by portraying both sides as equally capricious and destructive. Everyone's an idiot, especially each faction's leaders. Brown injects a bit of contemporary politics by explaining the source of their conflict as that of Science vs. Faith. The Awesomebots and Fantasticons disagree over whether Change-Bots and Word Processors have descended from a common ancestor - A pretty funny thing for a bunch of machines to be arguing over. The Fantasticons rig an election, which prompts the Awesomebots to stage "an extremely well-armed peaceful protest", leading to the eventual destruction of the Change-Bot home-world. These issues are exploited less for serious commentary than for comic effect.
ICB is hardly a deep or meaningful work. But fans of the TV series should find this a quick and enjoyable reading experience. The humor walks the fine line between self-reflexive parody and affectionate tribute. This is well reinforced by Brown's artwork: The crude rendering, thick rubbery lines, oversized lettering, bright color palette, and blocky character designs evoke the feel of the original toy-lines and cartoons. The highest compliment I can give Brown is that he gets what made them so appealing to their intended audience.
Excuse me while I dig-up some old Transformers episodes.