Sunday, 2 April 2017

Comic Review: Robo Machine featuring the Gobots Annual 1987

By 1986 Gobots was winding down in America, with the TV series moving to syndication and the toyline running out of new toys and getting squeezed out by Transformers in a shrinking market after the 1985 boom. In the UK the market was slightly less cut-throat as the simple difficulty of transatlantic business at the time meant fewer of the fly-by-night lines which had boomed briefly had made it across to Britain. Robo Machine had never been a gigantic seller in the UK and thus had less distance to fall, continuing to chug along happily in the #2 spot a long way behind Transformers; the line would only really stop when it ran out of figures, even managing to get Fossilsaurus and Dancougar roped in towards the end. Meanwhile at Egmont House World Distributors had paid for a licence as they were going to use it; for their second Gobots annual in 1986 World Distributors had a challenge; they'd set the bar very low the first time around - could even they go lower?
The answer is basically the same as it would be to the question "what animal would you like to shit on you?". There's not much in it and you'd be more likely to jump through hoops to avoid either. It follows almost exactly the same template as the first one, with the fictional content being entirely illustrated text stories heavily based on the Challenge of the Gobots cartoon but not as good. That means loads of Leader-1, Scooter, Turbo, Nick, Matt, AJ, Cy-Kill, Crasher and Cop-Tur with only fleeting appearances from anyone else. When others do show up they're the likes of Hans-Cuff, Zod and BuggyMan; despite being relatively late in the line this is not somewhere were you'll find weird appearances for Bent Wing or Clutch (it's possible whoever wrote these things only saw the initial mini-series).

There is some fun oddness though - a weird attempt to conciliate the pre-Gobots Enemy Invaders branding of Casmodon, Falgos and Zarios with their Gobots status as Vamp, Pincher and Scorp. And there's a minor origin for Baron Von Joy, explaining he was once evil but had been reprogrammed to work for the Guardians, which seems to be an attempt to fix the usual Von Joy/Dr. Go flub they made in the first book. And then it gets really crazy when the Guardians link up with friendly robots from the planet Godaikin, meaning a text cameo for Daidenjin, Vavilos and Biodragon - all remaindered Godaikin stock then available in the UK with hurriedly applied Robo Machine stickers. Wow.

One other change is that the stories do actually link up to each other, which is quite ambitious by World standards. There's also a bit more scope to the plot, including trips under the sea and into space, rather than Braxis-centered capering, plus a trip to the USSR and an appearance by Anya. It all builds - albeit in a very meandering way - to a big smackdown on an island. It's not great exactly but it is less of an insult to the intelligence and does give the book some sort of purpose.

The art remains largely terrible, lots of it obviously sourced from the first, though a couple of the new pieces aren't quite as awful even if they largely depict vehicles. The feature pages are also subtler; a couple of Renegade recognition tests are even on-topic and only a history of the laser has the usual World randomness to it. So, it is an improvement on the first; alright, the only way was up but this is ever so slightly better than expected.

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