Springing from the pages of The Phoenix Comic in the UK, Mega Robo Bros is coming to the US through Scholastic’s Graphix imprint. And seeing as Graphix are responsible for publishing Jeff Smith’s Bone and the works of Raina Telgemeier, you can be pretty sure they know a great kids’ comic series when they see it.
And make no mistake about it, Mega Robo Bros is a really great kids’ comic series. Full of action and adventure, bursting with humor, but also containing an emotional depth far beyond what you’d initially expect. Neill Cameron’s tale of two robot kids growing up in a London of the near future is just superb, a masterclass in storytelling.
The setup is simplicity itself; Alex (6, the red one) and Freddy (12, the blue one) are brothers. Adopted by robotics scientist Dr. Nita Sharma and her very down to Earth husband, Michael, they fall-out, they squabble, argue, fight, worry about school, and absolutely drive their parents insane. The only difference between them and all other young siblings? They’re incredibly powerful robots created by the mysterious Dr. Roboticus.
And throughout this wonderful first volume, you’ll discover just how crazy their world is. Everything has the potential for disaster, whether it’s school trips with rampaging robotic dinosaurs, all too visible superheroics when the skyline train derails, or marauding palace robot guards at the Royal street party.
Mom and Dad simply want them to be normal boys, despite their robotic nature, but events just don’t seem to be allowing that. And all the while, lurking in the background, there’s a mysterious evil robotic presence seems intent on destroying their lives, foreshadowed from the very first page:
If Mega Robo Boys was merely a light adventure romp of robots as kids, getting into all manner of scrapes and adventures, it would be good enough, thanks to Cameron’s wonderfully light cartooning and excellent sense of action storytelling. But the adventures are merely half the tale here. What elevates it to true greatness is the emotional depth on display, and a magnificent humor acting as a counterpoint.
Humor first. It’s there from the very start, as the opening chapter introduces us to these two very typical atypical siblings. It’s time for dad to get them out the door on the school run, complete with arguments up the stairs, dad stressing out, missed buses, swears (complete with age-appropriate content filters), and the boys managing to manipulate a harassed dad into letting them fly to school instead:
It’s all about timing. That silent third panel is perfection. Everything in dad’s expression. But Cameron doesn’t end the gag there, oh no. Just after the boys take to the skies (“MEGA ROBO POWER UP!“) we cut back to dad, listening to chaos unfold off camera. All we see is dad’s increasing worried expression and some very telling sound effects; a KERR-RASSH!! a SPLOOSH, followed by a blue and red NEE-NAW, NEE-NAW. You get to fill in the comedy chaos yourself, making it all the funnier.
Or how about this for Cameron’s panel to panel timing? Mom is explaining to her boss at the mysterious Government organization R.A.I.D. just how brilliant these two brothers are:
And of course, as soon as they walk through the door, what do they get… oh yes, Alex has made up a new song…
Before we get to talking about the emotional depth that really makes this quite brilliant, a word about two very important things about Mega Robo Bros that you’ve already seen, but you may not have noticed, given that Cameron does both so perfectly, so effortlessly. It’s all set in some future London, but there’s never a big thing made of this, it’s all there in his imagery. The flying buses, the skyways, simple but perfect shorthand. But even better, Mega Robo Bros is a fabulously diverse comic. But again, there’s no big fanfare, just people. This is a nation full of people of color, representation all the way up to the Royal family.
Now, that emotional depth. It’s all to do with the problems Alex and Freddy have trying to be normal kids doing normal kid things, despite having spectacular powers and a mysterious past. Cameron quickly introduces all those familiar issues that beset our children’s lives; friendship troubles at school, trying to fit in. It’s all handled expertly, with a subtlety only the very best artists can muster.
And then there are unique problems with being the world’s most powerful robots, discovering both their places in the world as youngsters, and uncovering their past. We see it most in Freddy, who’s older, prone to thinking a little bit more, and thinking some very dark thoughts, or having some terribly traumatic nightmares, of his past, or the future, all somehow connected to that mysterious robot and the number 23.
Now take a look at those panels. The looks between mum and dad at the end as Alex wakes up from his nightmarish visions full of foreboding and danger, pure heartbreak. There’s something truly spectacular in the manner that Neill Cameron manages to imbue his robo boys with such warmth and humanity. Indeed, there’s a real achievement in how much emotion Cameron elicits in the faces of the robo boys.
And as for the future, things just get better. Mega Robo Bros Volume 2, already out here in the UK, contains two of the most gloriously heartbreaking pages I’ve ever had the pleasure to read in a children’s comic. It’s a masterstroke that somehow manages to introduce the issues of gender identity into the plot. But that’s for you to discover in Volume 2. Right now, you have the delights of this first volume.
Buy it, buy it for your kids, buy it for someone else’s kids, or your kids’ school library. It’s a magnificent piece of all-ages comics.
Mega Robo Bros Volume 1 by Neill Cameron is available from David Fickling Books in the UK already (as is Volume 2, yay UK!) and is coming out from Scholastic Graphix in the US in March.