Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Digital Archive: Robo Machine featuring the Challenge of the Gobots Mini World series

Past posts have touched upon the unsatisfying history of Gobots in print even at the height of their commercial success - rather than a licence with Marvel or even someone terrible like Malibu there was a token mail order magazine from Telepictures while in the UK a run in IPC Fleetway's Eagle was superb but soon followed by a switch to the infamous World International Publishing, most often known as World Distributors. They didn't actually publish comics but instead licenced annuals (two Gobots examples were issued in 1986 and 1987; both were terrible, the first being a possible nadir for Western creative writing) and storybooks based on extant properties with some appeal to kids - most notably their savaging of the likes of Doctor Who and Blake's 7 under approval of the BBC.

Their storybooks were less prolific but there were a couple of sub-labels for this and one was Mini World; these books were even smaller than the 'Ladybird' format (instead being about the same page size as a British digest comic) in that was standard and hard soft cardboard covers. Each was 24 pages long and contained colour illustrated stories. Four were issued featuring the Gobots or the Robo Machines or whatever, World's acquisition coming at a time when the Challenge of the Gobots cartoon series was beginning to creep across the Atlantic on VHS and ITV and Bandai Europe scrambled to link it up with their independent Robo Machine branding. The four published were also put out as audio cassettes.

They're not good stories, being sub-Saturday morning light sci-fi stuff but (unlike the terrible annuals) do have the consolation of being a bit weird in places. The books are dated 1985 and more than likely predate the annuals as it would seem World were only supplied limited source material to base the stories on, not that this ever really stopped them. Thus there are some very strange quirks as the (always uncredited) writers tried to tally what seems to be some incomplete details of the cartoon with the very very basic information that Bandai put out with the toys. Thus there's an uncertainty as to whether the Guardians are sentient or mechs; Cy-Kill certainly is as are other Renegades like Cop-Tur but the good guys rarely speak, are all but incapable of acting without human operators and are generally described in language that suggests the writers are hedging their bets. All artwork meanwhile is heavily sourced from the toys.

Meanwhile Matt and AJ are featured but Nick isn't mentioned. Well, she's called AJ but she appears to be a white (there's a tinge of darkness to her skin from time to time and she still has the weird attempt at showing braids but yeah she's white) young adult and quite why she's living with Matt in the Command Centre is blissfully skirted around. Matt meanwhile gets a strange uniform that's definitely a bit Communisty. Both work for the ASC now apparently. As with most of World's material Doctor Braxis is treated as a full regular, appearing in all four books.

Champions of Lixil depicts a struggle to stop Braxis and Cy-Kill from rigging a Plastikice hockey (played by androids) match - the time these books are set in is never really defined but then like most eighties cartoons nominally set in the present day writers were always happy to throw something unrealistic in if it allowed them to speed-write a script. The cast includes Cy-Kill and Cop-Tur on the bad guys' side lining up against Scooter and Rest-Q. Scooter gets referred to by name but has no real show of sentience (no change there, he humorously quipped) while Rest-Q is referred to as "the ambulance-GoBot" and "it[s]" but does get to join in for the funny closing joke. Oh, and Matt's watch is clearly based on one of the Kronoform transforming ones which everyone and their dog bootlegged in the eighties but sadly doesn't transform.

Collision Course Comet concerns Cy-Kill's attempts to destroy Earth with Halley's comet (also used as a plot device in the series, though this seems to be a coincidence) after stealing a gravity component from some shit aliens from the planet of Mixafon. Crasher appears and gets something approaching her TV personality (and gender) even if she's drawn exactly like her toy, right down to the original white colour scheme. Dumper appears too, also getting dialogue and a personality, even if he's referred to as "the GoBot-dumper". It's more than the TV show ever did with him, to be fair. By way of balance he's described in the text as yellow when he's plainly orange in the art. Spay-C also appears (continuing the Guardian pattern by being referred to as "the GoBot-shuttle") and gets lines but is referred to as male. Meanwhile the Thruster is depicted as a cheesy space rocket but at least the story establishes that the Renegades obliterated the shit alien army last time they were on Mixafon. It's possibly the best one of the four - well, least bad.

The Wagner Sirens features our 'bot Cyke trying to kill the Guardians with the help of some aliens who possess ear-splitting singing abilities. The sirens of Wagner 11 are a morbid emo lot who want to stay on their dying planet rather than help the Renegades but for some reason Braxis is able to coerce and threaten them into helping, which the book glosses over - quite why the writer chose to do this to him or herself I don't know. Cy-Kill's help this time comes from "the jeep", i.e. Geeper-Creeper while Turbo gets to show and have a name but like Scooter shows little signs of sentience and Road Ranger gets neither a personality or a name beyond "the truck". We also get our first look at this weird continuity's Command Centre, which is a massive building that looks nothing like the toy. 

Finally it's the Weeds of Calcheron, Cy-Kill transplanting the titular alien death-plants to the Command Centre's garden without anyone noticing until they try to eat AJ. He again has back-up from Cop-Tur while on the Guardian side there's a rare appearance for Dozer (naturally referred to as "the dozer") and Leader One, who not only has no personality (nyarf) but gets drawn as Royal-T. Also whoever drew the thing used Geeper-Creeper as an art reference for drawing a normal jeep.

So, there you have it. Bad but with some weird trivia, i.e. quintessential Gobots tie-in material.

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