Friday 15 December 2017

ReadItDaddy's Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 15th December 2017 - "Mega Robo Rumble (Mega Robo Bros 2)" by Neill Cameron (David Fickling Books)

Our Picture Book of the Week this week may have arrived a little late but we're so glad it's here. Let's get ready to Mega-Robo-RUMBLE!!
Long term blog followers will probably already know that we absolutely love The Phoenix Comic, and we definitely love Neill Cameron's work.

But why?

You see, when we got into a recent discussion with a parent about comics, we got that standard response that comic fans get. That response that makes our blood boil a little bit, but rather than kick off a huge ranting speech defending comics, I merely started to talk about the "Mega Robo Bros" strip.

In this second collected volume culled from Neill's strips in The Phoenix (if you haven't yet checked out the first, definitely go read our review!) We once again team up with two kids who...well, just happen to be the world's most super-advanced robots.

"Mega Robo Bros" chronicles the day to day life of Alex and Freddy, and the absolute genius of the strip is how it can successfully meld together a super-fantastic vision of the near future with a good dose of the sort of stuff kids have to put up with in their own ordinary everyday lives.

C immediately took to this strip, mainly because she is pretty much a female version of Freddy with all the same behavioural mannerisms, zest for life, and of course, love of fart and poop gags. She sadly doesn't pack a pair of atomic blasters in her wrists, can't fly, and thankfully doesn't destroy public property on a daily basis but my guess is that Neill's canny and unerring observations of his own son (who does a FANTASTIC job of drawing some pretty hilarious little skits in The Phoenix himself as asides to the MRB stories - Cool work Logan!) contributes directly to Freddy's take on life in the not too distant future.

The second volume of Alex and Freddy's chronicles is full of amazing action scenes, a story arc that is both satisfying and involving (dovetailing nicely with the Super Robo Seven strip that recently made even more compelling reading, offering up a decent back-story for the events unfolding in MRB) - but that's only part of the appeal (admittedly a massive part of the appeal for C, as well as the fact that kids get to feature prominently in the strip and kids LOVE reading about their own counterparts in a pseudo-idyllic future society - well, idyllic apart from killer robots showing up every 5 seconds wanting to trash the hell out of London, of course!)

We're wowed by the world that the stories are set in. We see amazing technological leaps that you can't imagine would be possible in our current political climate of bickering about Brexit or grumbling about Trump. We also see Alex and Freddy coming to terms with (or in Freddy's case, milking the living crap out of) their newfound fame (Freddy's grasp of YouTube culture pretty much summarises how I feel every time C tells me I'm woefully out of touch with what kids want to see or read!)

This strip will show you astonishing flying vehicles, a stunning public transport system weaving its way around the new and old buildings, and of course robots and androids living amongst us, going about their daily grind just like we do now, and their creators coming to terms with their creations beginning to make sense of the crazy human world and what makes it tick.

It's almost like a technological utopia at times, like Mega City One done right. That world, quite frankly, is one I'd love to live in (again, killer robots notwithstanding).

Then there are the human moments that Neill's pretty damned humble about - but these are the moments that have me shoving this up that parent's nose when they call comics 'brainless popcorn for the eyeballs'.

Dr Sharma, a cyberneticist and genius, just happens to be Alex and Freddy's mum. Their dad has that almost constant hang-dog expression of someone who (like most dads) has to shout "Get your shoes on, coat on, do your coat up, no DO YOUR COAT  UP!" 50 times before leaving the house every morning. These characters and the exchanges they're responsible for are exquisitely portrayed and Neill's art has always been amazing, but never better than in MRB (in our humble opinion!) with awesome colour from Lisa Murphy and Abby Bulmer.

So in Book 2 there's action a-plenty as a ghost from Dr Sharma's past emerges from the darkness, a seemingly unstoppable force with a thirst for revenge - with only Alex and Freddy standing in the way of outright destruction.

We're driving ourselves nuts with various conspiracy theories about the mysterious underground robotic saviour that crops up in Vol 2 but we're utterly glued to the comic's current run in The Phoenix to see if any of those theories bear fruit.

Back to that conversation with 'the parent' about comics. It's one we've had so many times, and though I remember covering some of the points above - in my rather pathetic justification for why they should let their kid read The Phoenix, or other comics that push the boundaries of diversity, put a Doc Marten Boot through any notions of gender pigeonholing, or (YAY) do a fantastic job of not treating their audience like imbeciles - I feel I'm whistling down a well.

Sadly by the end of my recent impassioned case for comics, I could see their shutters coming down. I genuinely feel sorry for their kids, because I imagine what their kids would say if they got their hands on something as cool as Mega Robo Rumble, or if they were allowed to pick up a few copies of The Phoenix and dig through the amazing weekly strips.

This though - this is the sort of stuff we hold up as a prime example of why comics for kids should be treated with far more respect than they get, particularly by folk who are more than a bit sniffy about what they let their kids read.

If we weren't already massive comics fans, Mega Robo Bros would've had us converted without any shadow of a doubt and this second collected volume is just as essential an addition to your collection as the first.

C's best bit: The stunning finale and showdown with Wolfram. Just wow.

Daddy's favourite bit: A brilliant second volume collecting together some of the best comic work you'll ever let your kids loose on. Get on this. Now.

(Kindly supplied for review)

"Mega Robo Bros: Mega Robo Rumble (Book 2)" by Neill Cameron with additional colour by Abby Bulmer and Lisa Murphy is out now, published by David Fickling Books.