On assignment for Animation World Network
One of the best assignments I've had over my past thirteen years with Animation World Network is the one I just completed: Paramount Pictures and AWN teamed up to send your Dr. Toon on an all-expenses paid trip to the planet Cybertron to interview members of the Transformers, now the popular stars of three CGI animated films. Since the CGI sequences are of particular interest to our readers, I was to record new images of the shape-changing star-bots for use in Transformers 4, 5, and 6 and capture the nuances of their personalities.
What I found was completely unexpected. Among the fantastic structures of Cybertron exists a run-down rust belt of slums unknown to even the most ardent fans of the comic books, animated shows, and CGI films. Living there are the "lost" Transformers, disowned by Optimus Prime and totally unsuited for any type of combat against the Decepticons. Or even action figures of them. Or anything else for that matter.
"Hell, I don't know if Couch Potato can even change into anything else anymore. He's been in front of that TV for so long I can't remember him in any other configuration." The Transformer who calls himself Beer Can shook his tab-shaped head, pointing to the metallic Barcalounger whose pillows seemed to swell and rise. I heard a gentle snoring sound that competed with the Jerry Mainspringer show playing on the TV set.
"What does his wife have to say about that?" I asked.
"Aw, hell she trucked out of here years ago. Now Couch Potato's solo-noid. All he's got left nowadays is his son, Console."
"He ain't my son," the Barcalounger rumbled.
"Sorry, Tater, thought you was asleep." Beer Can turned to me with a whisper. "He thinks his wife configurated with Honky Tonk. That was one of the Transformers who hung around at the Steel-a-Dream bar. He could transform into any steel guitar, bass, or fiddle you could name. Had a great amplifier, too. Ladies loved him, but Tater's wife had nothin' to do with him. Try tellin' him that, though."
Beer Can gave a sad shake of his tab ring. "Not that Console's a big deal anyway. All he ever did was skip instruction so he could stay home and play video games. His favorite was Saint's Row. He'd transform into the vehicles and run wild, raisin' holy hell all over Cybertron."
"He's nothin' but a lazy tool." Couch Potato grumbled. "Hey, Beer Can, set me up, willya?"
Beer Can reconfigured himself into a tall, metallic bottle and hopped over to his friend. Tipping his head and neck, he poured a cold stream of beer into the mounds of metal resembling pillows.
"Man, that's good. I owe ya one, Can."
Beer Can reconfigured into his cylindrical shape. "Don't ever tell Tater this, but Console got his girlfriend Tube Top installed. They got one under construction that oughta be here by October. Wait till Tater finds out; that'll get him away from the flat screen. Come on, Dr, Toon. Let's meet some of the other Transformers that live around here."
We went out into the street, which was a cacophony of strange-looking muscle cars and garishly painted female Transformers leaning against streetlights manufactured out of their own parts. "Pump your piston, skin boy?" one of them hummed as I passed. Young, low-slung robots sporting weapons out of multiple gun ports rolled by. Several of them scanned me with menacing beams as we walked by. At the end of the street stood what seemed to be an enormous trailer.
Beer Can waved his church key hand in greeting. "Double Wide!" We haven't transmitted on the same frequency for ages! How the hell have you been?" The trailer turned its head and its headlights blinked on.
"Sorry, Can Man. With all the shit goin' down in the trailer park lately, I've had my chips full. And all of the data's been bad. Look over there. Roofer's been getting messed up on Oilycodone, transforming into a nail gun and beating up on Microskirt again. Put one right through her chest plate augmentation panel the other night, you should have heard 'em carrying on. Then a squad of Cop-ticons were here for HotWire, he's been stealin' core processors again…"
"You live in a trailer park?" I asked in astonishment.
"I'm part of it, meatbag. Generate my own propane. I'll blast you a face full if you don't watch yourself."
"Sorry, Double Wide. I'm just surprised that Transformers like you exist. On Earth, all of them are –
"Well, shows what you know. On Earth, you tell me you don't you have poor cousins, dropouts, or slackers? Right. All you ever see is Optimus Prime and his do-goody snooty-bots. Wanna know something? I'd sooner configurate with a Decepticon than hang with his stuck-up band. Oppy can bite my bumpers!"
"You rock, DB!" came a deafening reply. Thrash metal music warped the air as I clapped my hands to my ears.
"That there's Metalhead," shouted Beer Can. "All he can transform into is sound equipment, and nobody is louder. Or plays shittier tunes." Beer Can turned his tab and yelled at another robot sitting on, or rather, part of, his front porch. It's arms contracted and expanded in steady rhythm. "Hey! How many times have we told you not to do that in public!" The robot ceased his activity and reconfigured into a rundown trailer. "Dammit," cursed Beer Can. We just can't get Four-Stroke to behave!"
I looked around in despair. Everywhere I turned, a race of hyper-configurative robots that everyone on Earth believed to be metallic superheroes had been replaced by lowlife idiots. How could I report this to the heads at Paramount, or to Rick DeMott back at AWN? No one would believe me, and even if they did, who would want the terrible truth to get out? It was like finding the Justice League replaced by the Junkie League, or discovering that the Avengers were all victims of brain damage. To the astonishment of Beer Can, Double Wide, and Metalhead, I fled down the street, seeking the Paramount starship. I had to get out of here, recover my sanity. I hadn't gone fifty yards when a huge steel foot slammed down in front of me, blocking my escape.
"Whatcha doin' in this part of town, bit-brain? This is our turf. You one a' those Witwicky wimps?" I felt, rather than heard, another robot rolling up behind me. Sharp blades shot out on either side of my trembling body. Robotic laughter rang in my ears. "What we got here?" said a monotonic voice. The huge robot that accosted me squatted down and lifted my chin with a single steel digit. "Pleased to meet you, fleshbag. I'm GangBang, and this is my homie, Pit Bull. We don't multitask. We don't run software. We don't store data, and we don't like humans." GangBang looked up. "Tell him what we do with humans, Pit Bull." The Transformer behind me reconfigured into a terrifying hound from Hell, ten-inch fangs gleaming in the fading sunlight. I was not going to see the sun rise again.
"You leave him alone!" screeched a piercing voice. "Or I swear we'll kick both your asses! Do you hear us?" Two fembots were stomping towards the gang, shaking their fingers. "Shit!" GangBang said. "It's our old ladies, Frying Pan and Rolling Pin! We're screwed, Dawg!" The fembots began dissing my antagonists with rising fury. I took my cue and ran as fast as I could back to the relative safety of Beer Can and Double Wide. When I reached them, they were both rumbling with laughter.
"Damn straight," Beer Can added.
"But I'm on assignment!" I protested. "I have to get a column in every month. And Paramount is paying me to –
"That's your problem," Double Wide interrupted. "Now high-tail it outta her before I use you as a lawn gnome."
Back on Earth, I faced a tough decision. Who did I fear more, Michael Bay or Beer Can? I decided that even if worse came to worse, I could get the more upscale Transformers on Earth to protect me. After all, I had an inside line to them, right? So, I'm sending this column.
-THREE DAYS LATER-
The side of my house is gone, bitten away by a metallic dog the size of a small mountain. I'm hiding in the crawlspace, desperately sending this message for help. If you are receiving this message, call Optimus Prime immediately. I don't know how much longer I have until Pit Bull chews his way through the foundation, and my router may be gone in the next bite. I never should have written this column. If you can….AAAAAAAAAGGGGHHHH ………
Next month: Back to School! We'll take a look at the good and bad of directing a cartoon short or film.
Martin "Dr. Toon" Goodman is a longtime student and fan of animation. He lives in Anderson, Indiana.