Every day we are asked to pick a side, Liberal or Conservative, Instagram or Twitter, Coke or Pepsi. You get the idea. Back in the mid-eighties, we had to pick our favorite transforming robots, Transformers or Go-Bots. Transformers were big, flashy, and had lots of moving parts. Gobots, on the other hand, were smaller, less articulated, and nowhere near as popular as their larger competitors. Despite all that I really liked the tiny robots.
Go-Bots were marketed in the US by Tonka, who partnered with Bandai which had created the toy line in Japan. There they were known as Machine Robo. Go-Bots were about the size of a Matchbox car, maybe a little bigger, when they were in their vehicle form. When they were transformed into their robot form they were about three inches tall, with moveable arms and legs. They were so small they didn’t have knee joints so there was not much to be done when posing the figures other than to put them in a kind of Frankenstein stance with straight legs and outstretched arms.
In the last few years, IDW publishing has really tried to capitalize on the ’70s and 80’s toy nostalgia trend producing titles like ROM, Micronauts, Transformer’s, G.I. Joe, and My Little Pony to name a few. I’ve read several of these series and enjoyed them, so when the Go-Bots comic was solicited I was pretty excited. The series is written, drawn and lettered all by Tom Scioli. I am personally not very familiar with his work but his bio notes that he was co-creator of the “Godland” comic at Image, and he drew and co-scripted the “Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe” at IDW. The later series is described “as an insane adventure that the A.V. Club called #%$^&ing awesome”. After reading the first two issues of this series I would have to say the same thing.
The first thing that is notable about the comic is the cover. It is a portrait of one of the “good-guy” Go-Bots, Leader 1. What is so striking about the image is that it looks like something that a talented artist might draw in a notebook using colored pencils in high school. You can see the line work in the shading. It is not a highly polished, heavy inked, digitally enhanced, picture that you would find on any other mainstream comic.
When you open the comic right away you can tell you are in for something different. There is no opening splash page, instead, there are seven panels laid out unlike anything else you would see in traditional comics. The word balloons are large and plentiful, yet they don’t get in the way of anything. The lettering itself has the same hand done look that the art does and it has an almost childlike quality to it. That is not to say that it is messy, it looks like the same talented high school artist who drew the cover trying to write neatly and clearly and succeeding. The words that require emphasis are simply done with a heavier pencil line, instead of selecting the bold font on the computer. The coloring is soft and almost has the washed out look of watercolors. The ink work has a very light touch and does not take away from what I think might be colored pencils.
Every page of the story has a different panel layout with no page having less than seven panels. There is a lot of dialog. For me, this is reminiscent of older comics where the creative teams would fit whole stories into single issues. The entire package is unlike else being done today and I really liked it.
The story is a wild adventure. In this world, Go-Bots are the robot companions of humans. They provide transportation, protection, and entertainment. We are first introduced to Leader 1 and his pilot Condor. They are on a rescue mission to free some prisoners from an enemy jail. After that, we meet A.J and her Go-Bot companion Scooter. He’s dropping her off at school. In A.J.’s class, we get a little bit of exposition about the history of Go-Bots who were created to solve a parking problem.
From there we meet Matt Hunter, race car driver, and his car/pal the aptly named Turbo. After that, we really get into the story. Matt and Turbo are approached after a race by a mysterious bald man in a limo who has a business proposal for the two of them. The bald man takes them to a private arena where Go-Bots are battling each other to the death for the human crowd’s amusement. As the people in the arena chant “Kill-Kill-Kill” as Go-Bot with two wheels on his shoulders beheads his opponent. This fearsome Go-Bot, named Cy-Kill, wants more challengers and eventually decides he wants to fight Turbo. Matt and Turbo are disgusted and try to leave.
The crowd is not having that and they through Matt to the arena floor to face Cy-Kill. Matt mentions that Cy-Kill’s G chip will prevent him from harming a human. Cy-kill questions that theory and Matt trys to get away. Turbo saves Matt and they escape, returning later with the police. The arena is empty except for the bodies of dead Go-Bots and now humans.
These events kick off the whole series. From this point on there is a wave of Go-Bots “going bad” and revolting against the humans. The evil Go-Bots are led by Cy-Kill. It is an all-out revolution. Go-bots that once aided humans, like police cars, turn against them. The Go-Bots that still want to work with humans are brought together to by Leader-1. There is plenty of action and surprises throughout the next couple of issues. Eventually the Go-Bots head to outer space and to the homeworld Gobotron
The series has not been fully released but many of the memorable toys do make appearances in the comic. Screwhead, Scorp, Cop-Tur, Spacy, Zod, and the Command Center all show up. The series is dramatic and the art style provides an excellent juxtaposition for it. Because every page features a different panel layout this does not feel like any other mainstream comic. It is simply a ton of fun.
My brother and I had a couple of Gobots that I remember; Dive-dive, the submarine, Leader-1, the F-14, and Scorp, the scorpion were a few of them. Due to their smaller size, they fit in well with Kenner’s Star Wars figures and Hasbro’s G.I. Joe line. They were also less expensive than their larger cousins, the Transformers, which helped when asking for a new toy. Of course, there was a cartoon but I don’t have any real memory of watching it. Reading about it on the interwebs these days it is not well regarded.
This comic brought back a lot of fond memories and led me down a couple of fun rabbit holes while I researched the history of Go-Bots. As I write there is one more issue due out and I cannot wait to see what happens. Tom Sciloi does not have a huge body of work, probably due to the fact that he has an unusual style, as he writes, draws, colors and hand letters all his work. He did the backup Super Powers stories in Cave Carson has Cybernetic Eye. I have to admit I did not know what the deal was with that story and didn’t know it was Sicoli when I read Cave Carson and did not pay much attention to it. After reading Go-Bots though I’ll have to go back and check it out.
I want to close with something one of my friends said when we were talking about this comic, that I think really sum it all up very well. “He’s [Sicoli] put into comic book form what it used to be like to play with actions figures as a kid”. I could not have said it better.